One of Broadway's beloved young couples, Jarrod Spector and Kelli Barrett will celebrate one year of marriage Oct. 26. They have spent much of their first year examining other people's marriages while putting together their first show at Feinstein’s/54 Below focused on the music of married singer/songwriters like Ashford and Simpson, Ike and Tina Turner, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Sonny and Cher. As newlyweds they are interested in learning from the successes and the pitfalls of relationships in the entertainment industry.
So far it looks like they are on the right path. They talk about everything with each other — including the scary possibility of becoming attracted to another costar — but are still able to keep things light. A tour of the couple's Instagram accounts — a mix of sweet selfies, intimate preview videos for their show, and addicting dubsmash clips of Barrett and Spector re-enacting movie scenes in their apartment — is adorable and hilarious. They built a foundation of friendship first, when they starred in early incarnations of the Bert Berns' bio-musical Piece of My Heart, but after hundreds of phone calls, texts, platonic dinner dates and games of Words with Friends, Barrett, who was most recently seen on Broadway as Lara in Doctor Zhivago, realized the Beautiful: The Carole King Musical star was the Harry to her Sally. For this latest installment of A Fine Showmance, Barrett and Spector talk about their made-for-each-other timbres, killing their onstage chemistry with their first kiss and what they've discovered about marriage through singing songs that range from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," to "Seven Nation Army" for This is Dedicated: Music's Greatest Marriages, which runs Oct. 20-24 at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
This is Dedicated is focused on married collaborators, but do you talk about showmances at all?
Jarrod Spector: Yes, specifically showmances, because that's how we met.
Kelli Barrett: We do need to clarify: We became really good friends first and then got together after a couple of years of knowing each other. But that's how we met — that's how actors meet each other!
JS: The show is all about married couples, so of course we have to admit that sometimes costars get together, just the same way that we did. We didn't meet in a rehearsal process and instantly get together like it was an overnight camp. We did a reading of [Piece of My Heart], and seven months later we did another incarnation of that same project, and then we did a third incarnation another seven months later and it was that time that we finally did get together, but we had established a really close friendship before anything romantic had ever happened, which is the best way to do, it I think. Sometimes people just meet and get together, but the fact that we were able to really know each other inside and out before anything else really happened…
KB: At least it really worked for us.
How do you make that big jump from friendship into romance? Especially when you're co-workers and you're definitely going to be seeing each other again. What makes you take that chance?
KB: Jarrod and I would text and play Words with Friends a lot. You've gotta love Apple and all of their apps for bringing people together! We're also both big foodies, and we'd be like, "Hey have you checked out this new restaurant? We should go!" So we were kind of going on dates, without admitting that we were going on dates. JS: They were totally platonic.
KB: One day we were talking on the phone, and I was folding laundry in my home in Astoria, and I remember he said, "You know you're the Sally to my Harry, right?" and I dropped the phone. I kind of had this "a-ha" moment. The guy that I thought was becoming one of my best friends, who I was even complaining to about my ex-boyfriend was the guy.
Did anything change after that?
KB: We did not address it. I think we kind of made a joke about it and moved on….
JS: I think I was just being honest in that moment. You were describing something in very great detail or being very specific in the way that Sally is in that movie, and I thought, "That's exactly us."
KB: Then it actually changed when we did Piece of My Heart at New York Stage and Film [at Vassar]. It's kind of like sleepaway camp. They put you in dorms. Williamstown is like that as well. They put you in homes and you're living together.
JS: We were just kind of hanging out one night and we realized, "Wow, this is turning into something else…" We knew we had a few weeks of rehearsing every day and being around each other all the time, so if it had gone south it would have made for a really awkward time, but that was where it changed.
Do you remember your first kiss?
KB: Absolutely. We talk about it in the show.
Can you give us a sneak peek?
JS: Well, it was late at night…
KB: Everybody else had gone to sleep, but when you love to be around somebody you just keep hanging out without saying, "Gosh, it's getting late."
JS: Right, it's getting late it's three o'clock in the morning...
KB: We had rehearsal the next day and it was one of those moments where the chemistry in the room kind of changed — you could feel it change — and I asked him, because he was lightly touching me in a way that was…
JS: It wasn't overtly sexual.
KB: It's very hard to describe. It sounds lascivious, but it wasn't, and I asked him if he was seducing me! I don't want to give away the punch line. You're going to have to see the show to see what he said.
JS: Ultimately I admitted that I was.
KB: And then we kissed...
JS: And then we kissed. But of course like Harry and Sally we had a long conversation about whether or not this was ok for our friendship and for our lives…
KB: It was probably terribly unromantic. It was practical.
JS: It was like a one or two-hour talk, and then it was on.
Was the next day, and the next couple weeks different while you were at Vassar? Did people notice?
KB: Every day of life after that moment has been different, but yes it was fun because we had this secret. We couldn't tell anybody. We didn't want people to think it was going to get in the way of the show. It was very new to us. We weren't sure how we were exploring it, and we just wanted it to be our thing, and be private.
JS: But we definitely told Jenn Colella the next day.
KB: Yes. She's one of our nearest and dearest, so we told her.
JS: And our buddy Dominic Nolfi. We told those two castmates because they were both instrumental in shepherding us together…
KB: Which we found out later… They sang at our wedding and have been such a big part of our relationship. They have been there through every step of the way.
Were they like, "It's about time!" when you told them?
JS: Oh yeah.
KB: Everybody knew but us!
JS: Our director Leigh Silverman knew as well. We didn't tell Leigh right away, but in the show we were playing husband and wife and we had to kiss on stage. I guess the chemistry of that kiss actually changed for the worst. It was less real, and apparently Leigh said to Jenn, "Did they get together? Because suddenly they have no chemistry on stage," so we admitted it and then the chemistry was back.
KB: We were trying to hide the fact [that we were getting together] so the kiss became more like, "We're just doing this because it's our job!"
Because you got together this way — playing husband and wife — does it ever make you more worried that it could happen again with another costar?
KB: Yes, we talk about that in the show as well, and I even put in my vows that I would draw those lines with costars and that we would have an open dialogue about all of it, because we don't live in a world in which we're like, "We're only ever going to love each other and be attracted to each other and nothing bad is ever going to happen." We're very much realists in that way, and practical. We realize that there are other people on the planet who are talented and gorgeous and charismatic and that anything could happen in any moment. Life is about your choices, and a marriage can't last if you're not communicating about that stuff. Hopefully it won't happen for awhile, but we're not naive to the fact that we could have feelings for someone else. God forbid, but that is very common, and I think where a lot of other couples may go wrong is that they feel like they can't talk about it with each other. [We feel that] no matter how hard it is we have to talk about it.
JS: We are constantly put in positions where we have to kiss very attractive people. That's just not normal. It's not something that everyone who's not in our bizarre, specific industry can relate to, so it's something that we have to be prepared for in a way that most people just don't have to be prepared for, but because we've already had dialogue about it and we've been talking about it from the beginning, we're prepared — just in case it were to ever become an issue — to talk about it, and we'll work through whatever that is.
KB: And something does change in your mindset a little bit. We've both had several costars that we've had to be very romantic with since we've been married, and it's not like in the past there's been some kind of blurred line, that's not what I'm saying, but there's something just so much more definitive in that that little door is not even cracked anymore. Yes when you're in the character you give over to moments on stage, but there's something about being married where you can really leave it all in the theatre and not bring it home.
JS: And not bring anything into your heart either.
KB: Oddly enough, I think the fact that we've talked about it and we know we have permission to be human beings has made it easier to compartmentalize things in the way that they should be.
It's less taboo between the two of you.
JS: Right. There are no secrets that kind of fester and become something more than they ought to be.
KB: It's really hard for temptation to live in the light.
I interviewed Kelli O'Hara a few years ago, and she said that after she was married she actually felt more free to act in a loving relationship on stage, because there's no chance of anything real happening.
JS: Now that you're putting that into words, that's it exactly. I've had several costars [since we've been married] and they know that nothing is ever going to happen, so there's no weird sexual energy. You just do your job.
KB: I definitely relate to that, and as a result my last costar, Tam [Mutu] in Doctor Zhivago, and I have become such good buddies, and he's good buddies with Jarrod. I didn't have to be oddly putting up walls with him.
JS: The walls are there.
KB: Right the walls are there, and we can just do our job and enjoy each other's presence. It's been really cool. That's so true. She's right.
That Kelli O'Hara is a wise one! Have you noticed any other big changes since you've been married? Not that much seems to change these days since most people already live together and everything…
JS: You're right almost nothing changes in your everyday life. We were already living together and other than wearing a piece of metal on your hand it doesn't really make a huge difference. But for me, as close as Kelli and I were before and as committed as Kelli and I were before we got married, there's still a little tiny backdoor escape hatch, so I think that before we got married there was always a little bit of myself — my heart — that I would hold back. I'm really pragmatic and I don't want to invest everything in something that might not be forever. Then once we were married that was gone. Every action, every kind word, every good deed, every kiss, every hug, everything that we do for one another goes into this vault that sort of continues to accrue interest for the rest of our lives. It only serves to strengthen our relationship from here until death do us part, so after being married I find myself never wanting to hold back and never wanting to withhold anything and just give as much of myself as I can.
KB: As for myself, it's actually made me hold back in other ways. Sometimes you can say something in haste and not realize that it really stings or that you weren't as sensitive with your wording as you could have been, and so now if something's happening and I'm frustrated or I'm irritated…
JS: Which never happens.
KB: Which never happens… You just have to be aware that you're in a marriage and every word echoes forever and you can't undo it. I try to step back, take a breath, and think about why I'm feeling this way, and what I actually want to communicate. I'm not 100 percent perfect at this, but the fact that everything I say to him stays with him forever and I can't take it back is a part of my consciousness.
It sounds like you're building this world, and you don't want to hurt it too much.
KB: Exactly. It's a foundation, or like a well of water that you have to keep going to. There has to be water there, and every time you screw up or say something bad, you're drinking it.
Why did you choose marriage to be the center of your show? Is it because you're approaching your one-year anniversary? Or is it just something that fascinates you…
JS: We got married Oct. 26 , and in the short time since we've been together, we are [constantly] asked what it's like to be married to another artist. "Is that weird?" "Does that make things more difficult, less difficult?" The truth is, we've been married for such a short time and we would never say after 11 months of marriage, "Well, this is how it is." What do we know? We're around people who've been married for five decades. How do we dare say what's what, so we wanted to try and answer that question. Also, it just so happened that as we were [coming up with] this idea, I was asked to sing at a gala to honor [lyricists] Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Kelli and I went, and at the end of the night the 90-year-old Alan got up on stage with his 85-year-old bride Marilyn — Marilyn was on her walker and Alan had his cane — and he sang "Love Like Ours" for her, which they had written years before.
KB: Barbra Streisand made it famous.
JS: It's hard to describe what it feels like watching these two people who are still this much in love with her still looking at him with such love in her eyes and singing these beautiful lyrics. Kelli and were just holding each other's hands and weeping. We thought "Wow. If there's a gold standard for which to aspire, it's these two people." We went home that night and said, "This is what we have to do."
KB: And Jarrod's in Beautiful of course, which deals with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who are a married and collaborative couple, same with Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Barry and Cynthia are still together, but Carole and Gerry are not, so we started researching married collaborators and we got it down to 18 couples — which has been shortened since — nine of which ended in divorce. We thought, "50/50: That's the nation's average. This is interesting." We thought that it was really compelling that artists are like anybody else, but as we started to really look into the whys, the reasons [they stayed together or divorced], some of them are similar to other marriages, but some of them have their own unique set of problems, and we thought, "There's a show here. There's a journey through marriage, through art, that we can tell as two newlyweds." It was a journey for us to see where we were headed, what the pitfalls are and in that we learned so much. We were like, "We need to share this with other people and these couples need their stories told." We do an Ashford and Simpson medley of "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," which a lot of people [associate] with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and they don't know Ashford and Simpson's story: the love of their marriage that brought that music to life. We don't go too deep into their life story — it's not really a bio concert — but we do touch on it and we talk about where the music came from and about a lot of the things that couples have to deal with: losing a partner, divorce, showmances, and, of course, in talking about these things we are able to tell a little bit of our story as well.
Are you guys similar kinds of performers? You seem very in tune with each other in your preview videos on Instagram. And I love how you look at each other when you're singing.
KB: Similar yes, but hopefully whatever we're doing compliments each other, and we're rounding each other out. We feel like especially in the context of this show that it's really important to have that onstage connection. The show is about married couples and we're finding that with each other. We haven't been able to do any shows together since Piece of My Heart, so this is us finding our groove.
JS: Right. What is our dynamic? We do some Sonny and Cher, but we don't necessarily always want it to be that I'm the butt of the joke and Kelli's the sharp one, because that doesn't necessarily reflect who we are all the time.
KB: Yes. I'm often the butt.
JS: Sometimes Kelli's the butt! It's something we're figuring out as we go. I've always been in awe of the way Kelli interprets a song, interprets the lyrics and delivers the story of what a song is, and I get to watch her do that.
KB: And Jarrod's very much a showman. You are watching a rock concert. And when I tell you that the man can do anything vocally — I mean anything. He can riff like a big ol' black lady; he can give you opera; he can give you crazy rock music. Watching him navigate that terrain is so exciting.
Does performing together add a spark to your relationship? I don't want to say a turn on… but kind of!
KB: Say it! Totally.
JS: When Kelli auditions for a TV show and we have to put her on tape that's a turn on, so you can imagine that getting up on stage and singing rock ballads and love duets together is certainly a turn on.
KB: This is so corny, but I think we have a great blend — vocally. From the first moment that we ever sang together we had something going on sonically that made so much sense. That's actually one of the reasons we wanted to put a show together. Our voices match each other, so when we're belting a high note together and it just hits perfectly, it's like, "Yes, I'm married to the person I'm making the music with."
You said, "Our voices match." That is so cute!
JS: We're both very conscientious singers, and thank God our timbres match. In doing research for the show we had a talk with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil — which I admit is an unfair advantage — and they said, but I think that they were quoting someone else,"There's nothing better than doing what you love with the one that you love."
KB: They were quoting Alan Bergman who said it about Marilyn, because [Barry and Cynthia] actually know them and look up to them as well. We were like, "That's the nail on the head right there."