June 21, 2006

Bobby Spencer on JB, the Tonys, and Lots More

June 21st, 2006

The Winchester Star’s Teresa Dunham has written a wonderful story about J. Robert Spencer, who talks about his excitement starring as Nick Massi in Broadway’s Jersey Boys, his acting days at a Shenandoah University, his proud family and professors, and lots more.

Dunham notes that J. Robert “Bobby” Spencer acted in four seasons at the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre in Winchester — and now he’s portraying a member of the Four Seasons rock group in a hit Broadway show.

In fact, the show — Jersey Boys— was named Best Musical at the Tony Awards this month. The honor went to the entire musical production, not just Spencer, a Shenandoah University graduate, but his portrayal of 1960s rocker Nick Massi definitely helped to seal the deal.

In a phone interview from New York, Spencer said,

“The Tony Awards was a fantastic night. We were all dressed up, and we walked the red carpet.”

He wore a tuxedo given to him by London designer Ted Baker. His wife, Jenny Lynn Suckling, was lent a Versace dress and $68,000 earrings just for the magical night.

About his family, he said,

“My sisters were text-messaging me from Texas during the commercial breaks. It was just the most special night of my life.”

When the musical won, his mother starting crying in front of the television set, and his father kept saying, “Best musical, wow! Best musical, wow!”

As early as fourth grade, Spencer knew he would be an actor — and his years of persistence paid off.

Spencer never forgets the influence that Shenandoah University had on his acting career. A 1991 graduate, he recalls plenty of undivided attention and small classes. Thinking back on his days, he said,

“Had I gone to any other school, I could’ve been misplaced. The beautiful thing was the intimacy.”

His roles at SSMT included Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and the male lead in “A Chorus Line.”

Hal Herman, Spencer’s former teacher praises Spencer’s achievements,

“The Tony is the biggest award in theater … and the biggest award that a theater student from Shenandoah has been associated with.”

Hal Herman and his wife, Lindé Hayen Herman, were Spencer’s favorite professors. About the Hermans, Spencer noted,

“They were great fans of mine and always knew that I was going to make it. The amount of love that I felt for the Hermans was inspiring.”

Spencer always wanted to do his best for the Hermans, and the couple really did see something special in the young actor. Herman said that Spencer makes him feel very proud. On the night of the Tony Awards, Herman watched every minute of the television coverage — and never had a doubt that the musical would win.

Not so long ago, Spencer’s life wasn’t always glitz and spotlight, by any means. A couple of years ago, he was living in Los Angeles while his wife was in New York doing Broadway shows. Between writing and chasing big acting roles, he would walk dogs on the beach and wait tables at a restaurant. He kept telling his wife that he would come back to New York with a lead in a Broadway show. He told Dunham,

“I have been given a lot of beautiful gifts, and I would tell her there is no way God would dangle this carrot in front of my face for my entire life. He just wouldn’t.”

But he started to take a harsh look at his life when he reached his mid-30s and hadn’t made serious progress–turning 35 in LA, feeling quite unhappy and missing his wife.

When Spencer was first called to audition for the show, he remembered saying that he didn’t want to do another Mamma Mia-type pop-music show — but he soon realized that Jersey Boys was much more than that.

At the audition, he brought his acoustic guitar to the audition and sang “Stand by Me.” Spencer appealed to the director because he was a quadruple threat — meaning he could sing, dance, act, and play an instrument.

After a successful stint at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in November 2005. The musical has sold out every night since then, with many standing ovations. Some people come to see the show 20 times. As for the songs, Spencer never gets tired of singing them again. The cast performs hit songs, such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” He said,

“You never think, ‘Here comes that damn song again.’ It’s iconic music that will last forever, and we get to sing it every night.”

Now he performs in eight shows a week–with JB fans screaming for the cast are like they are the Beatles when they come to the stage door.

Spencer says he just kept playing the Tony Awards night over and over in his mind, fixed in the moment when everyone was standing up and screaming for the winning musical.

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