Having performed for six years as Frankie Valli in the Broadway hit musical “Jersey Boys,” and now creating the character of songwriter Barry Mann in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” Jarrod Spector has become an autodidact on the history of early rock ‘n’ roll.
He has brought many of those insights to his cabaret show at 54 Below, where he is celebrating the thrill and the trill of the high tenor and tracing that glorious sound through American popular music.
Mr. Spector introduces his thesis with the explanation that “the tenor is the rock god of each generation,” and says that there is something spine-tingling about those falsetto sounds when they suddenly break through in a song. Then he proves it, by channeling singers from Little Jimmy Scott to Billy Joel and Smokey Robinson through to contemporary performer Bruno Mars. He even sings a song of Enrico Caruso’s in honor of an Italian great-grandmother who came to see him in “Jersey Boys.” While it’s safe to say that opera is not in Mr. Spector’s future, and he’ll never be a great blues singer, he’s wonderful with pop songs, and the great backup band supports him all through the set. These are songs that many generations grew up with and loved, and almost all of them hold up through Mr. Spector’s joyful interpretations.
Relatively few of the great rock ‘n’ roll performers were Jews, but many of the songwriters and producers were, from the Chess brothers in Chicago to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the early 1960s to singer-songwriters Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and on to Carole King herself, in the latter half of the decade. In “Beautiful,” Mr. Spector plays one half of the renowned songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who wrote hundreds of songs, many of which became major hits. In 1987, they were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. “Beautiful” focuses on the first decade of King’s legendary singing and songwriting career, and Mr. Spector said he’s thrilled to return to Broadway in another original role that explores a different side of rock and roll, the music made by a Jewish girl from Brooklyn.
One of three children, Jarrod Spector grew up in rock-and-roll-loving Philadelphia, listening to Motown and Bobby Darin. When he was only 6 years old he appeared on TV’s “Star Search,” and his Broadway debut came as Gavroche in “Les Miserables.” Mr. Spector then took some time from performing to attend Princeton University and develop his acting at the Atlantic Theater Conservatory. After opening the Chicago company of “Jersey Boys” as Frankie Valli, he was chosen to play the singer on Broadway in 2008, and fell into stardom. He performed in the show an astonishing 1500 times.
The venue, 54 Below, 254 W. 54th Street, is in the same location as the old Studio 54. Cozily decorated, it’s a comfortable spot with good views of the stage from every table, and serves a full menu of very good food.
The cabaret act is the basis of Mr. Spector’s new album, “A Little Help From My Friends: Live at 54 BELOW!”, which will be released on March 25.
According to Mr. Spector, if you can sing Frankie Valli, you can also sing Little Richard and Freddie Mercury and George Michael and Bruno Mars and the Beach Boys. And he sings them all.
He will perform “A Little Help from my Friends” on March 23, 24, and 31 at 9:30 p.m.