This past Sunday, Jarrod Spector arrived in town. But unlike most Feinstein’s headliners, who fly out shortly after their final performance, Spector is fixing to stay for a spell.
Starting next week, he’ll be in tech rehearsals at the Golden Gate Theater for the pre-Broadway run of Roman Holiday (The rehearsal process got underway in New York studios last month). The show, a musical adaptation of the 1953 Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck film, will keep Spector around town through mid-June.
Spector’s consecutive stints in a solo show and a production musical give Bay Area showbiz aficionados an opportunity to experience the breadth of his century-spanning repertoire.
While his cabaret act features pop standards from the 1960s to the present including Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” and local anthem “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Roman Holiday harkens back to an earlier era of pop hits, weaving Cole Porter standards into the fairytale plot of the William Wyler-directed movie.
Yet, as Spector explained it during a recent phone conversation, even Roman Holiday hews to the pattern of his professional career, summed up in the title of his Feinstein’s show: Jukebox Life. “In its own way, this is a jukebox musical of Porter songs,” he explains. “It’s not about musical performers”—as was the case with Spector’s career-making Broadway bio-hits, Jersey Boys and Beautiful—“but it takes songs that already exist and works them into the story.”
As Jukebox Life makes abundantly clear, music has always been a major factor in the Jarrod Spector story. In 1984, a three-year-old Spector appeared on Al Albert’s Celebrity Showcase, a television talent show in his native Philadelphia, with a shuffling, hand-jiving “Toot Toot Tootsie.”
By the time he was 7, Spector was winning national attention as a contestant on Ed McMahon’s Star Search enthusing his way through the likes of “Splish Splash” and “The Birth of the Blues.”
While peers were asking “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”, Spector was making himself at home on Tin Pan Alley.
And what was his parents’ role in all this? “No three year old decides to do Al Jolson impersonations or knows how to play to a television camera on his own,” Spector replies tartly. “My parents have always been very supportive.”
After doing several stints as Gavroche in the Broadway production of Les Miserables starting at age nine, Spector began auditioning for television and film roles. At age 16, he was involved with a major sit-com pilot that failed to be picked up by a network.
“At that point, I felt like I was dealing with emotional stakes that were just too hard for me to handle. I told my parents I just wanted to stop, to have a girlfriend and play lacrosse. It was very hard for them to accept my not wanting to do what they’d had me doing for my whole life.”
Academically successful, Spector graduated high school and went on to Princeton University, where he began a major in economics. “After two years,” he explains with great candor, “I had kind of a nervous breakdown. I went and lived at home for a year, trying to figure out who I wanted to be.”
Spector says that, despite a period of emotional tumult, taking time off to pursue a different path ultimately served him well. “Eventually, I decided to move to New York and I went to acting conservatory at the Atlantic Theater Company. But even though my parents continued to be supportive, I knew it was my own decision.”
Fresh out of conservatory, Spector aced his first audition, winning the lead role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, which he first played at the Curran Theater here before transferring into the New York production, where he stayed on for a remarkable five years.
Of that long run, Spector recalls, “It was my first time back on the big stage since I was nine years old. The novelty takes a long time to wear off. And I was going to New York, I was expecting to take Broadway by storm, which doesn’t happen that way, of course. I wasn’t even the originator of the role. But I found ways to keep it interesting. I’d go back and listen to the Four Seasons’ recordings and try to pick up little nuances of the way Frankie sang. Or I’d find something fresh by looking into the eyes of my acting partners.”
“Eventually though, after years of six or eight shows a week, it became too great. And I was lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive partner [Fellow Broadway performer, Kelli Barrett, to whom Spector is now married] who encouraged me when I thought about leaving the role.”
“Its a really terrifying experience, to leave a full-time job in a hit show without having anything else lined up. But look, we didn’t choose this field because we wanted job stability. We’re artists and we have to feel energized and take risks.”
Along with workshopping a handful of other shows, Spector used some of his time between Jersey Boys and Beautiful (in which he originated the role of songwriter Barry Mann) to begin putting together Jukebox Life. He’s also collaborated with Barrett on an additional pair of cabaret shows—This is Dedicated: Music’s Greatest Marriages and Look At It My Way.
The latter, Spector says, “is very much a book musical. A 75-minute jukebox musical that happens to be about our life.”