Fresh Face: Jarrod Spector

by Joanne Villani

Jarrod Spector

Age: 27

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Currently: Starring as Frankie Valli, the golden voice of the Four Seasons, in the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys.

Reaching for the Stars: Spector was only three when he first performed professionally, singing on a local television variety show. By age six, he was competing on Star Search with renditions of Bobby Darin classics such as “Splish Splash” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” a song he coincidentally now sings on Broadway every night. The tunes got him pretty far, landing him in the finals against a girl named Countess Vaughn. “She was like an 11-year-old Whitney Houston and I was 6. I just didn’t stand a chance,” Spector recalls. “I was cute. She was great.”

Little People: Throughout his childhood, Spector balanced performing and kid stuff. “I’d leave early from school at 12 or 1 o’clock and take the car or the train up to New York and audition and come home at rush hour,” he says. “It was taxing, but I remember liking it.” Encouraged by his parents, he auditioned for the national tour of Les Miserables when he was nine and was cast as Gavroche, playing stints in his hometown and Chicago. Soon, he was making his Broadway debut. “I actually can’t think of a better role for a young boy,” Spector says. “You get to burn a piece of cork and rub it on your face, put on the dirtiest costume and run around with a rifle and get shot. I mean, it’s just so much fun.”

To Thine Own Self Be True: At 15, Spector experienced a turning point when he was offered the role of an aspiring Las Vegas singer alongside Peter Boyle in a sitcom from the writing team of Friends and the producers of Mad About You. Unfortunately, the show never made it past the pilot, a huge disappointment for the teen performer. “I was so frustrated and sad and immature, frankly,” he remembers. “I said, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore. I just want to be normal.’” In a severe about-face, he entered Princeton as an economics major. But a business career wasn’t the answer, either: “I was getting diminishing returns on my happiness, despite my success in school. Princeton is where I realized that just because you’re physically or mentally able to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.”
Working His Way Back to Broadway: Re-energized, Spector moved to New York and spent two years in the Atlantic Theater’s acting school, where he starred in a classroom production of Hamlet. “It was frankly liberating to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be,” he admits, “to take the bull by the horns and say, ‘I’m going to do this because I want to and because I love it and it’s in my blood.’” A year later, he’d booked the national tour of Jersey Boys: “I was on the corner of 16th Street and Ninth Avenue and my manager called me and played ‘Walk Like a Man’ to tell me I was hired as Frankie Valli.” After six months as an alternate in San Francisco, he assumed the role full-time and headed to Chicago. A year later, he was on his way back to New York. “There are those red letter moments in an actor’s life when you get those calls,” he says of the excitement he felt at being tapped for Broadway. “Maybe it diminishes as you get older and you get more of those calls, but the first few…I will never, ever forget them.”

Who Loves You: Being cast as Frankie Valli gave Spector the chance to meet the pop icon, who was “everything I wanted him to be,” he says. The real Valli was nothing but complimentary of Spector’s performance, even giving the young actor his phone number should he ever need advice. “I’m thinking, ‘Right, I’m gonna call Frankie Valli!’ But literally, I have Frankie Valli’s number in my phone, which is kind of an odd thing every time I scroll past it.” Spector has also built a friendship with John Lloyd Young, a fellow Ivy Leaguer who originated the role on Broadway. “He was so kind, and he was never condescending or territorial or possessive,” he says. “He just wanted to share his experiences. We keep in touch by e-mail and he sent me flowers on my opening night.”

Broadway Boy: Playing to hometown crowds after more than a year on the road has given Spector a new perspective on the appeal of Jersey Boys. “It’s Jersey in the mezzanine,” he says with a laugh. “You’re literally playing to the people from the neighborhoods you’re talking about. They get it—they understand the show and the jokes.” As for finally starring on Broadway? “I’m very much a musical theater actor and not the rock star we pretend to be every night,” he laments. “I’m not sure Frankie Valli ever had to sing 27 songs six or eight times a week. I’m not a hermit, but I don’t go out to loud bars with my friends and party after the show. My life is a little quieter.”