BWW Interviews: The Leading Men of NYMF - Jarrod Spector, Daniel Quadrino, Brandon Timmons & Mel Johnson Jr.

The New York Music Theater Festival can easily be considered a harbor for the freshest talents in musical theater. Over a period of several weeks, an astonishing number of musical productions are presented on vest pocket stages throughout New York City. As is often the case with harbors, there is a confluence of talent feeding into it. Not only is this talent from all over the nation, but it ranges from the youngest to the most experienced and they all converge on the city for this event.

A sampling of shows being presented this summer boasts leading men from Florida, Philadelphia, Long Island and Queens and they range from virtual newcomers to actors who are truly seasoned. These men were happy to converse about their hometowns, their careers and the shows that they are or will be appearing in for NYMF.

Philadelphia native Jarrod Spector normally stars as Frankie Valli in the long-running JERSEY BOYS. Taking a short leave from that show, he will be seen in a leading role in the NYMF musical FLAMBE DREAMS in which he plays a young man determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a maitre d’, even though the elder man lost his life in a tragic accident while preparing bananas foster tableside. “It’s a crazy plot but I love it!” he says.

Spector began performing at a very early age, taking singing lessons at the tender age of two and a half. His mother noticed that he was memorizing songs on the radio when he was two and she taught him a few ditties like “On the Sunny Side of the Street” which he performed for his father. His parents then found a singing teacher for him. “By the time I was three I was performing on a local TV show called ‘The Al Alberts Show’ I did that once a week for about three or four years. My first theater piece didn’t come around until the first National Tour of LES MISERABLES in Philadelphia and I was cast as Gavroche. I played LES MIS in Philly, Chicago and then again in Philly. Eventually I did the role on Broadway.”

“People often ask,” says the actor, “whether I was pushed into this. The answer is ‘Of course, yes. You can’t do it of your own volition if you’re a minor. However, I had a real proclivity for performing. My parents and siblings have always been wonderful and supportive.”

Spector eventually outgrew the role of Gavroche and he did a show at the Walnut Street Theatre called TWIST. “It was a multi-racial take on Oliver Twist,” Spector explains. There were some recordings, a failed TV pilot and lots of auditioning. “At that point I felt I was done and I told my parents I didn’t want to do this anymore. I wanted to play basketball and sleep with my girlfriend. I wanted to be a ‘normal kid’. That’s what I wanted to do. So I worked really hard and went to Princeton. Eventually I realized that this just wasn’t in my soul. I mean, what good would a degree be if I wasn’t going to use it in my chosen profession?” A short stint with the Princeton Triangle Club brought Spector back into the realm of musical comedy and re-enforced his feelings about how much he missed the creative forces of performing.

Ultimately this resulted in Spector moving to New York, taking courses at NYU and meeting Robert Bella who encouraged him to explore the Atlantic Theater Company where he just might learn the basics of acting. It was there that Spector learned how to break down a scene and figuring out what your character needs to get and how to get what was needed from scene partners. He did that for two and a half years.

He also did quite a bit of auditioning and one of the projects he went out for was JERSEY BOYS. He didn’t make the original company but a year later he was called to do the national tour of the show. He was eventually asked to come into the Broadway company—where he’s been pretty much ever since.

The offer to do FLAMBE DREAMS came at a time when Spector was planning to take a hiatus from JERSEY BOYS to do a project that fell through. Although he wasn’t part of the original workshop for FGLAMBE DREAMS, Spector is extremely enthusiastic about the piece. “When I read the script I was laughing out loud and knew I had to do it. The cast couldn’t be better and they’re all the greatest clowns. I mean what cast could be better when it includes J. Elaine Marcos, Jillian Lewis, Kevin B. McGlynn and Catherine Cox? That’s two time Tony Award nominee Catherine Cox!” Spector also has high praise for the book and lyrics by Matthew Hardy and for the music of Randy Klein. The actor feels that this is a show that definitely “has legs” and will probably find great success in one of New York’s smaller houses.

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Joe Panarello is one of those people who have most certainly been born with theater in their blood. As an actor, Joe has played such varied roles as Harry Roat in Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark, Jimmy Smith in No, No Nanette and Lazer Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof a vehicle he's performed in several times and designed the sets for on one occasion. He's also directed productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and Henrich Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Joe is a respected author and although his latest work, The Authoritative History of Corduroy won't be published until this summer, it is already being translated into several different languages by a group of polyglot nuns in Tormento, Italy.. The proceeds from their labors will go to the restoration of the nearby Cathedral of Gorgonzola.