A Broadway star transforms grocery items into kitschy ‘food for thought’


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

When Tony Award-winning actor John Lloyd Young showed up to Allee Willis’ home to talk about a potential music collaboration, he brought a gift only fitting for the unabashed lover of kitsch: a box of Triscuits he adorned with rhinestone jewels.

Young, who snagged high praise – and a Tony – for his role as Frankie Valli in the original 2005 Broadway production of “Jersey Boys,” didn’t set out to create pop kitsch. His foray into the world of mixed media art came when his manager gave him a mannequin and suggested he do something with it. He decided to cover her with silver rhinestones, and after seeing the leftover stones all over his home he got inspiration from a surprising place – the food aisle.


“Every time I went to the grocery store, I saw potential,” said the 34-year-old, who has also appeared on the hit show ‘Glee.’ “It turned into an art show.”
Willis, the Grammy-winning and Tony-nominated songwriter known for her massive collection of pop kitsch, thought he needed to show off his work and offered to host his first show in her eccentric Valley Village home, The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch.

“I wanted my friends to see the work. A lot of artists say the kitsch museum should give me a show. But he was really deserving. I rarely feel inspired to do something; it’s his first show and I’m happy to do that,” Willis said. “It was perfect.”

On Sunday, Young offered a glimpse of his take on pop kitsch with pieces that played off iconic comfort food. There was a wall of blinged-out Good & Plenty boxes, a sparkly domino set that upon closer inspection was actually carefully placed jeweled Kraft macaroni and cheese cartons. A bucket of KFC, a 12-pack of Grape Crush, Spam and boxes of Pop Tarts and Cheerios were among the other food staples that were on display.

The show, ‘Food For Thought,’ acted as a fundraiser for AIDS Project Los Angeles. Young also plans to auction off a number of pieces -- including mixed media works of “Jersey Boys” and “The Color Purple,” which Willis did the score for -- to benefit the organization, including their Necessities of Life program, the nation’s largest network of free-food pantries for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS.
“I never expected to have a show. It keeps me sane as an actor to have something to work on in between shows and auditions,” Young said. “Most of (the food) is iconic. The packages never changed. I loved finding ways to play with them. I essentially got to play with my food.”

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy



Allee Willis, queen of kitsch

Above left) ‘Explosion,’ which features Tony’s pizza boxes. (Above right) ‘Virtue,’ the mannequin that inspired Young’s art.