After setting a record for the most performances as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys (1,500 y’all!) and saluting his favorite male singers in a new solo show at 54 Below, Jarrod Spector is back on the Great White Way playing another real-life musician, Barry Mann in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Midway through previews at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, the former child star chatted with Broadway.com about how he and his fiancee, actress Kelli Barrett, are like senior citizens, why you might not want to sit next to him on the subway and what he thinks of being voted Sexiest Man Alive by the readers of Broadway.com.
You've jumped from Jersey Boys to another biographical musical. What's it like originating Beautiful rather than stepping into the cast?
It’s incredibly refreshing to be able to put your stamp on a role and not be told "This is how somebody else did it." [Beautiful librettist] Douglas McGrath is rewriting all the time with this particular cast in mind. This creative team has been incredibly collaborative. We are able to create things together in a way that's really exciting.
How would you compare playing songwriter Barry Mann to playing Frankie Valli?
Despite the fact that Barry is a real person, nobody necessarily knows what Barry looks like. People aren’t worried about the singing voice or any of that. I have the freedom to sort of sound the way I want to sound. The goal is to do honor to the man and the character, but in this case there’s a little more leeway in terms anything specific to his persona.
In the show, Barry is quite the hypochondriac. Is this real stuff?
There is a lot of Barry in the character. If you think you’re completely justified in needing an emergency room visit or needing a heart doctor, or you have serious concern about going to L.A. because of smog or the dander from Carole’s cat—those are legitimate concerns, and I don’t think he necessarily sees them as being a hypochondriac [laughs]. He earnestly thinks he has these issues.
You have great chemistry with Anika Larsen, who plays your wife and writing partner, Cynthia Weil. Did you guys click right away?
She’s great. It’s always a little bit scary that first day because It’s like an arranged marriage. Anika and I got along right away and we’ve worked consciously to get to know one another. We’re constantly trying to make our story better and to bring alive the real-life Barry and Cynthia. It’s been very pleasant and it could be very scary. I think we both feel we got lucky.
If you had to follow Beautiful by playing another musician, who would it be?
I have two that I would like the opportunity to play. One is Leonard Cohen. I think his story is great, and his music is obviously incredible. “Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs —that would be a hell of an 11 o’clock number to sing. And the other, because I’ve been told I look like him, would be Bruce Springsteen. For that one, I would need some intense guitar work because no musician is going to get on stage and play Bruce Springsteen without being able to wail on the guitar. That would be an amazing challenge!
You did some strange warm-ups when playing Frankie Valli. Are you doing the same thing to prep for this show?
This role isn’t as trying, so the way the timing falls, I warm up on the subway every day. It's not loud; it’s actually very quiet. I do get some looks, because when you see somebody pulling on their tongue and doing a crossword, you think they're either going to the hospital or they're crazy. Actually, I fit right in on the subway.
We read that you starred in a production of Hamlet. Is straight theater in your future?
God, I hope so. I played Hamlet right after acting school, and I was auditioning for Jersey Boys at the same time. I found parallels between Frankie and Hamlet, as strange as that sounds. At night it’s “To be or not to be” and for the auditions it’s “Fuck this and fuck that.” I would absolutely love to do more straight theater, TV, film—there isn’t a medium I wouldn’t want to work in as long as the work is good and people will hire me to do it.
Did you see that you were voted Broadway’s Sexiest Man Alive by our readers?
I did! [Laughs.] I laughed for a good long while. I’m very appreciative of anyone that voted. I think that it’s completely bizarre. I’m honored to be among the guys on the list. And then I saw another list on Buzzfeed of the 34 Hottest Broadway Hunks, and I’m not even on it!
That list was garbage.
[Laughs] That list is bullshit, of course. Nonetheless I’m very honored to have that title. Anika is very proud of me, as is my real life fiancée, Kelli Barrett.
Speaking of Kelli, we loved this tweet: “Life in @BeautifulonBway previews: Wake. Kiss Loved one. (eat) Rehearsal. (eat) Performance. (eat) Apologize to loved one. Sleep. Repeat 60x” How are you making it up to her?
Between Christmas and her birthday, which is in January, I will do everything I can to make up for the lost time. She could not be any more supportive. I mean, she’s a Broadway veteran herself, so this is not unfamiliar territory, but she’s just been amazing. She’s there when I get home, and she meets me for lunches because she knows how hard it is for me to run up to Harlem [during rehearsals]. Once we fall into a normal schedule, I’ll make it up to her.
What do you guys do to relax?
We cook! We love food and wine. And Kelli and I are big nerds, so we watch Jeopardy every night like a 70-year-old couple. She recently got me to watch Wheel of Fortune. That’s a little bit lower brow, but I will indulge.
You watch Jeopardy...?
[Laughs.] Yes, exactly, because you have to live your life. You still have to come home and relax. And we’ve committed to seeing more of New York. So many people claim the reason they live in New York is because it’s so awesome—and it is—but I haven’t seen enough of it. We went to Jewish Museum the other day. I’m playing a Jew in the show, so I feel like I have to get in touch with Judaism. In our off time, we go exploring and enjoy the city as much we can.
See Jarrod Spector in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.