BWW Interview: BEAUTIFUL's Jarrod Spector Is Not a Hypochondriac (He Only Plays One)
Jarrod Spector, who portrays the renowned songwriter Barry Mann in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, is grateful not to have to sing as much as he did in his last gig. Before BEAUTIFUL he portrayed Frankie Valli in JERSEY BOYS, and scored a record-breaking 1,500 performances during his run. And he's happy to give his voice a break.
"I completed 1,500 performances and that is the current record," said the Philadelphia native. "Looking back, if I had to do it over again I would be terrified because it's so hard on your voice. I had to be diligent-very little drinking, no late nights, no caffeine or anything acidic. And I had to stay away from dry, noisy places."
His current role as Mann may not have as many singing opportunities (there are still plenty) but he also gets to try out his comedic chops. Mann, portrayed as a hypochondriac, comes off as sweet-naturedly adamant in romantic pursuit of his writing partner, Cynthia Weil. The duo, along with teenage Carole King and her partner (and future husband) Gerry Goffin, formed the heart of the famed Brill Building "factory" period when scores of hits were churned out to eager fans in the late 1950s and '60s.
The Drifters, the Shirelles and the Righteous Brothers are but a few of the legendary groups depicted in the show singing hits created by the quartet of musician/writers.
"I'm extremely excited and thrilled to be a part of a show that has so much meaning for so many fans," Spector said. "When I first heard the song board for the show, I realized I knew almost every song. I didn't know Carole King sang and wrote as many songs as she did."
Spector was drawn to the spotlight as a youngster. "My mother took me everywhere and taught me an old song when I was 2 years old, 'Me and My Shadow,'" he said. "When I sang it for my dad, he was so impressed they took me to a voice teacher." The voice teacher was stunned by his talent and encouraged his parents to have him continue. He soon secured a spot on a local Philadelphia children's talent show. Spector eventually snagged the top award for Ed McMahon's Star Search, when he was a youngster. He found his way to Broadway by way of playing Gavroche in road companies of LES MISERABLES.
But he took a break from acting and singing while attending Princeton, studying economics and Chinese. "I had to figure out that who I wanted to be did not involve economics," he said with a laugh. After that awakening he moved to New York and started carving out a career that led him to Broadway.
Now he's thrilled to be playing Mann and honored to be portraying someone he's met. "When you play someone who is still alive, it's an added obligation," he said.
"With Barry, there's a little more leeway because people don't know him as much as say, Frankie or Carole," he said. What he did research was the era. "I studied more of the time period than I did Barry," he said, "the songs I was familiar with because my parents played them a lot."
The musical charts King's life and the evolution of the era, tracing her career through a Top 40 soundtrack that includes classics like "Up on the Roof," "One Fine Day," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."
Spector met Mann and Weil during an early reading of the play, he said. "It hadn't been completely cast and they came by and were just lovely," he recalled. "They didn't spend much time until it was cast and we had a chance to flesh it out as much as we could. Then Barry and Cynthia made suggestions. It was great," he said.
"Barry said he didn't know he was a hypochondriac until people told him he was," he said. "It's not even that he does it consciously, it's just part of his genius. It makes him very lovable and he told us so many stories about working with Phil Spector and writing 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling,' which turned into this huge hit.
"Whether it's Jersey Boys or Beautiful, I just try to bring as much integrity to the roles as I can. And whether or not people like the genre, these are more than concerts: you get a play," he said. "This is one of an incredible woman who is shy, humble and sweet. She is such a musical pioneer."
To his knowledge, King has yet to see the play, but did attend part of a rehearsal and spoke to the cast, he said. "She was incredible. She spent time with every single cast member about their characters, and I asked her questions about Barry and they did have a special bond and mutual respect while being very competitive. And yes, Barry said the same things about her," he said.
Playing a neurotic, funny character has given Spector more challenges than he's experienced before, he said. "Barry is neurotic, funny, kind and talented. He's head over heels in love with Cynthia and the partnership is wonderful to portray."
And he has plenty in common with Mann. "He's a Jewish kid from Brooklyn and I'm a Jewish kid from Philly," he said. "It's not a far stretch for me to live with these lines. And I'm not trying to be a comedian. He's just funny."
Singing audiences are par for the course, he said. "We definitely hear people singing along. We're not as rock-heavy as some musicals, but definitely enthusiastic," he said. "Sometimes people practically scream, 'I Feel the Earth Move,' and that's what makes it so much fun. People love 'Tapestry'-there's a certain maturity about the women of that generation who relate the strongest with it," Spector said. "As a lover of music I have the utmost respect for this music and love it, but it's not the same as having been a certain age in 1971.
"Sometimes you can see women in the audience cry. There's something about the depth of the lyrics that's so astounding. Frankie sang about 'Sherry Baby.' It's like little kid music. Carole's songs are deeply felt. Fans connect on a deeply emotional way."
BEAUTIFUL is playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St. (between Broadway & Sixth Avenue)
Spector will be appearing at 54 Below (254 W. 54th St.) on March 10, 23, 24 and 31.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus