by Lou Mancinelli
Maybe there’s poison in the water at the Germantown Academy (GA) drama club. So jokes actor, singer and Broadway star Jarrod Spector, who was nominated for a Tony Award this year for “Best Performance By An Actor In A Feature Role” in a musical, for his role as Barry Mann in “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.”
Spector also played 1,500 performances over six years, more than anyone else, as Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys,” which was just turned into a Hollywood movie by director Clint Eastwood. (It will open soon in the Philadelphia area.) The GA grad left the show at the end of 2012 after playing the lead in the national tour, in Chicago and on Broadway.
Spector, 33, grew up in Meadowbrook and attended GA before moving to New York City halfway through college and chasing his dream of being an actor. A dream that started before he really knew who he was, when he appeared on Broadway at age 3.
It is a dream he almost abandoned when he was 15 and a sitcom role he’d landed at NBC was lost when the show was never picked up. It was his time in the Belfry Club at GA, a place that also gave Hollywood the Academy Award-winning Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover,” “American Hustle,” etc.) that resurrected Spector’s passion for the stage.
And it was GA academics (class of 1999) that enabled Spector to attend Princeton University for two years, where he studied economics, before he left to pursue acting in New York City. At Princeton, Spector performed with The Triangle Club, Princeton’s musical comedy group, which helped propel him back towards what he says he was born to do.
The Local recently interviewed Spector, whose acting career was nurtured by his parents beginning at age 3. Spector was 20 when he left Princeton for New York City, where he did two-and-a-half-years of conservatory training at the Atlantic Theater Club Acting School. Since then he has lived in Harlem, except when he was on tour in “Jersey Boys.”
Local: When was your first appearance on stage?
Spector: I started singing when I was 3, acting not long after. My first appearance on a stage of any kind was the Al Alberts Showcase on Philly television when I was approximately 3 1/2. My formal acting training at the Atlantic Theater Club was invaluable, and I still use the techniques and script analysis I learned there for every role, be it for an audition or an actual job.
Local: What is it about theater that made you want to act?
Spector: I started acting long before I was able to consciously make that decision and was on Broadway as Gavroche in “Les Misérables” before I was 10. I continue to love theater for many reasons, the first being that this is where I’m being hired! But really, there’s nothing like being on stage with a live audience. Sharing the molecules and energy with the people backstage, onstage and in the house makes this a unique and irreplaceable art form.
Local: GA has produced other famous actors like Bradley Cooper and Brian Klugman, both in the class of 1993. Is there something special about its drama and music program?
Spector: Poison in the water? The Belfry Club at GA was wonderful for me. At a time when I had quit professional acting, it provided an outlet for my artistic energy and allowed me to play roles like Billy Bigelow in “Carousel,” which I’ll likely never be cast in a professional capacity. The ability to grow and stretch and try everything was hugely important during my teenage years.
Local: You are a vocalist too and have recorded two albums, singing classic American songs. Who were your musical influences growing up?
Spector: Everyone. My parents had me listen to a lot of Bobby Darin, Frank, Barry Manilow, Chicago and a ton of Motown (Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Temptations, etc.). I’m a child of the ’80s, and I have older siblings, so the pop, rock and soul music from the 1970s on played in my house. My favorite singer of all time is Freddie Mercury [of Queen].
Local: How do you prepare for an audition and for a performance?
Spector: Auditions are tricky because you typically only get one or two passes at the material, and you’re not sure who will be reading with you or whether they’ll really play and react with you the way a scene partner would in an actual performance. So I probably plan my tactics line by line a little more thoroughly for an audition than for an actual performance. If I’m confident in what I’m doing, I’m rarely nervous.
The audience is another member of the cast in a way, and the timing of lines, specifically in a show like “Beautiful,” which has a lot of songs and comedy, is at the mercy of audience reactions to a certain extent. So I’m aware of, and always grateful for an enthusiastic crowd.
Local: Was there ever a time when things were going badly and you flirted with the idea of giving up?
Spector: I did quit professional acting at age 15. I was in a sitcom pilot on NBC that had an incredible team: Peter Boyle in the cast, the writers from “Friends” and producer of “Mad About You.” I got to sing and play the piano; my character was an aspiring Las Vegas night club entertainer. I was truly prepared to move to Los Angeles, so when the show wasn’t picked up, I was devastated. I decided I needed a (perhaps permanent) break from dealing with emotions and issues beyond my years, so I dedicated myself to schoolwork, and that’s how I ended up at Princeton. Re-entering the business as an adult on my own terms was empowering, and that’s why even in hard times I stick with it now ― because I chose this life.
Local: What sort of affirmation is it for a young actor to be nominated for a Tony?
Spector: The Tony Awards were in my consciousness as a kid. Every kid thinks he’ll be a rock star or an astronaut; right? But once I was old enough to appreciate just how difficult it can be to have a job, let alone a good one in a good show on Broadway, I came to terms with the near-impossibility of awards, and I’m just happy to work. This nomination came as a surprise, and I’m extremely humbled and grateful for it.
Local: How did you come up with the idea for your “A Little Help From My Friends” stage show, which is also the name of one of your albums?
Spector: I’ve been doing solo concerts since late 2010, and my last show, which was entitled “Minor Fall, Major Lift,” and the music which inspired my first studio album of the same name had run its course for me artistically. I needed to put together a new show, and the idea of a show about tenors in the Frankie Valli vein, after playing him for so long in “Jersey Boys,” really appealed to me. Every generation has its version of Frankie’s sound, be it Enrico Caruso, Little Richard, Billy Joel, Bono or Bruno Mars, and this show (and album) explores that lineage.
Local: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in New York?
Spector: The competition. There is an unbelievable amount of talent in New York, and the numbers really do work against you, so it makes it all the more special when you get your shot.
For more information about Spector, visit www.jarrodspector.com. For ticket information for “Beautiful” at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St. in New York City, visit www.beautifulonbroadway.com or call 800-432-7250.