THE LEADING MEN: Jake Epstein and Jarrod Spector, Beautiful's Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann

By Michael Gioia
24 Feb 2014

Jarrod Spector


Longtime Jersey Boy Jarrod Spector began singing professionally at three years old. The actor, who made his Broadway debut in the long-running musical Jersey Boys and played Frankie Valli for 1,500 performances, started performing on a local Philadelphia TV show called "Al Alberts Showcase," where, he said, he would sing, tell a joke to "Uncle Al" and have to learn a new tune for the following week. At age six, Spector sang on "Star Search" and, a few years later, made his Broadway debut as Gavroche in Les Misérables. All grown up, Spector originates his first leading role, songwriter Barry Mann, in Beautiful, where he stars alongside Anika Larsen as his collaborator and love interest Cynthia Weil. Spector, who finds comfort in the styles of the 60s, will return to 54 Below for his solo concert A Little Help From My Friends, tracing the legacy of great male singers, March 10. The star talked about his vocal influences, affinity for the classics and creating a new voice for Barry Mann.

What is your special attachment to the music of this era, the 1960s?
Jarrod Spector: Well, you know, I seem to specialize in bio-musicals of the '60s and playing real-life musicians from that time period. [Laughs.] I do have a special attachment to that music for one reason or another. I mean, I was brought up listening to a lot of Motown. My parents raised me on Motown and Bobby Darin... I love Bobby Darin, believe it or not, a little more so than The Rat Pack. That's not to say that I didn't listen to [Frank] Sinatra and Sammy Davis, [Jr.] and those guys growing up, but it was a lot of Bobby Darin, Ray Charles and Motown… In this style of music, it was James Taylor I listened to growing up — much more so than Carole King. Again, it's not to say that I never heard a Carole King song because I know every song on every album she's ever done, but in sort of an auxiliary way because, to me, "Up on the Roof" is a James Taylor song, "You've Got a Friend" is a James Taylor song, and "Natural Woman" is an Aretha Franklin song. Of course, then I go back and listen to Carole, and it's amazing to hear where it came from — to hear the soul with which she sings those tunes and to really understand why people have such a deep and visceral connection to her and her music. I know all these tunes, as a lover of music, especially music of that time period — because I think [with the] '60s-'70s, you're really talking about the Golden Age of music in the United States and really in the world, in terms of modern music — but, nonetheless, I didn't grow up then.

What's really wonderful about doing shows like Beautiful — and Jersey Boys as well — is women, particularly, of that era [are] coming up to you after the show. And, to see them in the audience — they're crying because of their connection to the music, what it means to them, what that time meant to them in their lives. We all sort of look back nostalgically at our teens and 20s, and this is that time for so many of those people, and it really brings them back there.

Spector and Anika Larsen in Beautiful.
photo by Joan Marcus

There's something about Carole, in particular, beyond the music itself. All of these songs in the show are amazing, and we can all appreciate them, but there's something about Carole — the way that she sings, the lyrics of her songs… They're so simple, and yet so profound. It's just a girl at a piano, singing about her feelings, and there's something so incredibly vulnerable about that. Women of that generation relate to her in such a deep way — and men, too. We can all listen to a girl singing about "You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart." I mean, it's hard not to just fall in love with the woman who sings those words. So, there are so many ways to feel connected to the songs of this period, specifically to the music of Beautiful, and it's just an honor, really, every night to go out there and represent this music.

Would you say that your voice is influenced by this kind of music? Besides Beautiful and Jersey Boys, your 54 Below concert spotlights tenors of this era and of years before.
JS: May I just nerd out with you here for a second? [Laughs.] Four-generation families would come after the show to talk to me — and that includes my own, by the way: my nine-year-old niece, my 40-year-old sister, my 61-year-old mother and my grandmother. This is four generations spanning 70-80 years of life — and this is not an uncommon occurrence — all having loved this show and having loved this music, and that's a really rare idea. There just aren't that many things in the world that link generations in that way. If you look at them objectively, only the 60-year-old grandmother really would have been a Four Seasons fan. The woman closer to my generation — the mother — would have been a Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, etc. fan. The kid probably listens to Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, The Script, etc. And, the older generation probably listens to guys older than Frankie [Valli], like Little Richard and spanning all the way back to Enrico Caruso, who I cover in my show as well. The link for all of these generations is that style, that sound. All of those guys are basically doing the same thing, just in each generation, so the [54 Below] show is really tracing the legacy of this archetypal Frankie Valli-style tenor. Having been in [Jersey Boys] for so long, you get put in a box: "Well, he's a Frankie Valli type." Well, sure, but if you're a Frankie Valli type, then you also get to be Little Richard, Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Enrico Caruso, Bruno Mars and a million other guys who sing in that same way. It's a little bit of railing against that stereotype and saying, "Sure, I'll live in that stereotype, but guess what? That stereotype is so big and massive…"

That's sort of the concept of the show. I did four [concerts] in October-November. Starting on March 10 — and doing the 23, 24 and 31 of next month — I'll be back at 54 Below. Broadway Records and 54 Below approached me and said, "Hey, we'd like to do a Live at 54 album of your show," so all four of those [previous] shows were multi-track recorded, and they're right now in the process of mixing, editing and getting artwork together. March 10 is supposed to be the album release concert.