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

By Michael Gioia
24 Feb 2014

Spector in Jersey Boys.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Tell me about creating Barry Mann. With Frankie Valli, his voice is so iconic, but we don't really know Barry's voice as much as we know his music. What kind of research did you do? You're playing a character who is based on a real person, but you also have the freedom to establish his voice.
JS: It's definitely different. I don't carry the same obligation I did playing Frankie Valli or that Jessie has playing Carole King. It's not the same. People in the industry and music aficionados know the name Barry Mann, but most people don't know what he sounds like. They might know what he looks like, but I look enough like him, so I don't have to worry about that anyway. [Laughs.] So, it was more of a chance to create a character from scratch. I approached it like I would any character, really, in the beginning, which is to [take] the script and do what I thought was most appropriate given the words on the page. I trusted that our book writer Doug McGrath did the job that I know that he did — a really thorough job of getting to know the four characters and really channeling them into the page. That said, Barry has certain character traits that are easy for me and some that are — not necessarily a stretch — but that I have to sort of latch onto things in my past as a viewer of TV and film and theatre and say, "Oh, I can snag this" and "Oh, I can do something like that."

As a baseline, he's a Jewish kid from a northeast city, and he's a musician — that's not a big stretch for me. That's who I am, right? But his neurosis and his hypochondria — some of that has to come from other places, and I don't know if I did it consciously at first, but certainly — as time went by, and I did more research — I realized I was pulling from a few characters in my viewership past. One is very obvious — our book writer Doug McGrath was partnered with Woody Allen for "Bullets Over Broadway," and they're close friends, so of course, there's some Woody Allen in his writing, and especially in my character. I've seen "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" and "Bananas" and "Play It Again, Sam" about 8,000 times, so pulling Woody Allen-isms and using them in the show felt very natural. I also am a huge Paul Reiser fan, so of course there's some Paul Reiser in [my character] as well. There's some George Costanza [from "Seinfeld"] in his "becoming so irate so quickly." I pulled mostly from TV… It actually felt more natural to say, "He's more like these sitcom or film guys that I grew up watching, and this show is really written as a micro-drama anyway. It's very much a kitchen drama about these two couples, so it makes sense to approach it in that way.

In terms of the singing, I really am singing the way I want to sing — which is really nice — while still honoring the style. I'm not doing anything modern because I'm obviously representing a guy who was in the '60s, but I can sing the way I want to sing, which is great. Barry was the original singer in "Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)" — which is a wonderful little piece of trivia — but he didn't sound that dissimilar from Frankie Valli when he sang that song, so this isn't outside of my comfort zone. I'm singing The Animals' song ["We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"] more like The Animals than I am trying to imitate Barry Mann, and then I'm putting my own twist on it because people don't know what Barry sounded like, so it offers me a little bit of freedom, which is nice.

What was it like after meeting Barry Mann? Did he infuse your performance?
JS: Well, the first time I met him was at a reading, so you don't get the comfort of someone sitting in a dark audience and not being able to look at them. It's a reading — it's a rehearsal room; it's completely lit. We're all right there. They're all five feet away, sitting in chairs looking at me, and it was really the first time I had met him, so that was a little bit of pressure there. That can be a little bit awkward. When I met him afterwards, he was very polite and very sweet, and then I was subsequently cast in the show [officially]. Once I had gotten through some rehearsals and some previews, we really got to sit down and talk… Anika [Larsen, who plays Cynthia Weil] and I got to speak with Barry and Cynthia, and the first thing that Barry said to me was, "You know, I never knew I was a hypochondriac until they all told me that I was." And, I thought that was hilarious! It's such a telling character trait that he didn't know he was a hypochondriac. He's just actually, genuinely and earnestly concerned with many things, including his health at all times, and there's something charming about that. Nothing is put on. He is very genuine, and it makes him charming and funny, and he's very self-effacing… They told me stories about the first time they went to L.A., and I guess he had an allergic reaction to the smog or the different histamines out there, and he couldn't breathe, and they called 911, and the ambulance came [and said], "Is everything okay? Who's having a heart attack?" And, Cynthia answered the door and said, "No, I think he's got some congestion." [Laughs.] This is how these people lived their lives. I got to know them a little bit more and started adding some Barry-isms into my portrayal of the guy, which is great because I got to establish a base really based on script analysis and table-work with the writer and the director and the principals and then got to add some Barry afterwards, which was really nice.

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.) Watch highlights of Beautiful: