May 30, 2012

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Jarrod Spector!

May 30th, 2012

Jarrod Spector

Last month, we had an absolutely wonderful time chatting backstage with Jarrod Spector, who shared some amazing insights about playing the role of Frankie Valli for so many years, the unique challenges of this role, what motivates him to keep his performance so fresh and top-notch, his musical projects outside of JERSEY BOYS, and live theater’s special connection with fans!

Jersey Boys Blog: Thanks so much for meeting with us, Jarrod! To quote one of your last lines in the show, how do you keep ‘going and going and going’ and doing such an incredible job in the ‘Frankie Valli’ role? Every single time we’ve seen you, you seem like you bring something different to the role. So—how do you do it?

Jarrod Spector: Thank you, thank you!! Well, Frankie has unique challenges, so there are two answers to this question. One is: How do you stay fresh in a long-running show? The other is: How do you do Frankie over and over again? There are two battles there.

Obviously, Frankie has his own special set of challenges: both the vocals and the acting. While you’re not exactly playing Hamlet or Iago, it’s an emotionally deep role and it’s certainly a large role. You’re on stage for an hour and 55 minutes; it’s quite a long time. So, just physically, it takes its toll, not to mention figuring out how to be consistent singing the role over and over and over again. Obviously, it’s takes a lot a discipline. There are no two ways about it.

I would love to sit here and say, ‘You know, I’ve been doing it for soooo long and now, it’s just so easy!’ (chuckles)

It’s in my body, so to speak, but that doesn’t mean I don’t require working out four or five days a week, keeping my voice in as good as shape as I possibly can—which for me requires no coffee during the week, no alcohol during the week, no smoking of any kind, eating too close to bedtime, or you end up with acid reflex—all sorts of things you don’t necessarily think about, I have to do. My warm-up is 30 minutes and I usually finish about an hour before the show. Then, I have a warm-down, a sort of cooling down period and that’s another 15-20 minutes after the show is already over.

In the beginning, it was exciting, because I was so into the novelty of the role, and then, there was a while there, in the middle, where I was starting to fight it, because it felt like, ‘Gosh, I just want a cup of coffee, or I just want a drink…’

Look, there are always exceptions to the rule. Don’t get me wrong, I have a cup of coffee every now and then, on a Wednesday night or whatever. I might have a cup of coffee or a drink every now and then, after a show. But, I mostly stay in this sort of monk-like existence. It’s hard…

JBB Tech Half: Wonder how those entertainers did it back in the day, when you’d see them smoking or having a drink, right in the middle of their nightclub act?

JS: I have no idea. To be fair, most performers who drink and smoke don’t do six or eight shows per week, 27 songs per show. I don’t even know how it’s physically possible, unless you’re a very specific person. Even though I consider myself to be pretty strong, I don’t think I could do it. In fact, I think if I drank and smoked every day, there’s not a chance I could sing this show. Even if it takes your range that’s this big and takes it down this much [measures with his hands]…that’s it—you’ve lost your top and that’s where half the show rests. So, there’s that; the Frankie part is hard.

But after a while, it does really get into your body, so that even though it’s difficult and it’s not like you have to do any less work, it requires a little bit less brain power on an average day. It’s like: This is your lifestyle. This is how you operate on a day to day basis. This is what you do before a show. This is what you do after the show, etc., etc.

JBB: So what about the other challenge in the Frankie role?

JS: The other part is, how do you stay fresh in a show that runs for this long? I’ve done almost 1,400 performances; some of the people in this cast have done probably close to 2,500 or more at this point. It will have been open for seven years in November. Six-plus years, which for an eight-show week, could be as much as 2,600 shows. So, you know, the Sara Schmidts, the Peter Greguses, and the Mark Lotitos of the world—those people have done a lot of shows! I don’t know actually what they do to keep it fresh; we don’t actually talk about it.

But for me, when I was in acting school, one of the quotes that I can remember very specifically that I try to keep in mind is this: Every night, it should be a little different, but it should always make sense. So, I sort of liken it to walking down a hallway. You know you have to get from here to there by the end of the night and the directors, the choreographers, the music directors, the lights and everything have narrowed the hallway pretty close, so you can’t move around that much, but you can move around a little as you walk down the hallway. So, that’s what I try to do—move around as much as I can, staying within the confines of the writers’ intentions, the director’s intentions, and the music director’s parameters. Everybody has to fit. It is a gigantic maze backstage and there’s this ballet that everybody is performing on and offstage at all times, so you can’t do anything that dramatic or that drastic.

But, to try and stay fresh, you find bits, moments, words, intonations, things that maybe I would notice, but people in the audience might not even notice one night to the next, but it’s enough to keep me interested. And, there’s also a fresh new set of 2,400 eyes every night and that always makes it new and exciting. When we feel the doldrums, and I know it sounds cliché, but the truth is, and I really mean it: Every single night, it’s somebody’s birthday, it’s somebody’s anniversary, it’s somebody’s first Broadway show, it’s something that’s going to inspire someone to be an actor, or a singer, or a musician, or a dancer, or whatever it is. They deserve their $127, $137, $142 worth. They deserve it, so I try to give them everything that I’ve got.

JBB Tech Half: So, you feel a responsibility to the audience?

JS: Absolutely. Absolutely…Look, every now and then, I dodge the stage door line for time purposes. Like tomorrow, I have a sound check at 6:15 and I literally will not be able to sign autographs and for the last several days, I have been feeling guilty about knowing that on Sunday afternoon, I have to skip the stage door line, because I think it’s our responsibility. It’s part of the job; these people pay a lot of money and they want to meet you and they want to see you. We make our living because the producers pay us, but the producers make their living because these people pay for tickets. That actor to human connection is what separates theater from film, TV, etc. If you don’t acknowledge that connection and don’t say ‘Hi’—it’s just not right. We have an obligation and a responsibility.

JBB: Wow, Jarrod! That hallway analogy is amazing—I’ll never forget that!

JBB Tech Half: Jarrod, Susie always talks about the edge that Frankie had–the growl. The growl seems like it would be difficult to keep doing. What’s the story on your Frankie growl?

JBB: Jarrod has one of the most amazing Frankie growls!

JS: Thanks! I do have a sense of pride in the growl. In the beginning, I listened to Frankie ad nauseum. You can’t sing Frankie without the ‘cry yi yi…’

Frankie’s voice isn’t pretty. So, I think if you sing it pretty, it’s wrong. There are moments that his voice is so smooth and goes in and out so effortlessly in between his belt and his falsetto—it’s what’s so special about Frankie’s voice. But, it’s ugly, it’s glass-shattering, it’s ear-splitting–in a good way—that’s what the sound was. If the whole thing sounds like a jazz record, I think it’s wrong.

JBB Tech Half: It needs that street cred!

JS: It does–it needs it. Otherwise, it’s pretty and it’s wrong. It’s not Frankie and it’s not the sound!

JBB: You have a lot of other things going on: your one-man show “Minor Fall, Major Lift” in New York, in addition to shows that you’ve done in New Jersey and Florida, and tomorrow, The Doo Wop Project’s debut! You’re doing so many exciting things—is that one of the things as a performer that keeps you going? What are the challenges with doing cabaret versus performing in a big company?

JS: One informs the other; there’s no doubt about it. Doing cabaret informs Jersey Boys, because Jersey Boys has so much direct address, and vice versa. Just like a Shakespeare play, we take turns speaking directly to the audience. It’s unusual, so it’s a very specific skill. Cabaret rooms are obviously much smaller than a theater and the lights might be different, you usually can see the audience quite a bit better, and you’re speaking right to them. They’re listening to you and you’re talking about your own life and your experiences.

We all try to personalize as much as we can in what we’re saying in Jersey Boys, so when I talk about Frankie’s experiences, I try to make it as much my own as I can, in the proper actor way. I don’t actually believe that I’m Frankie Valli, because I’d have to be insane, but I try to take on the burden of telling his story and internalizing it as much as possible, so it’s a genuine, honest experience between me and the audience. Now it’s never going to be exactly the same standing in front of a group of 150 people.

Sometimes, it’s more daunting in a small room, when it’s just you and a band, and the audience is listening to you telling your story. You can never hide behind, ‘Well, the author wrote it that way’ or ‘It’s not my music.’ I didn’t write all the music that I sing in cabaret, but I chose those songs; nobody told me what to do. So, they’re different experiences. But, obviously going into cabaret from this show made it easier to a certain degree in terms of having the vocal stamina to sing an entire show, talking to the audience, and feeling comfortable on stage, and all that kind of stuff.

Sometimes, that personal experience in cabaret actually helps me come back and I know what it’s like telling a story about myself, so when I’m up here telling a story about Frankie, I just know how it feels. So, I find different nuances just because of that—how would I say it if it were really my life, which is what you’re supposed to do anyway, but sometimes it’s a nice thing to get a reminder.

But yes, doing projects outside of the show in general really helps. We’re all artists; we’d like to think so, anyway. We want to stay fresh and we want to stay inspired by doing new work that is exciting. I feel like you have to do it. I feel, if there’s no outlet, then it can be sort of the doldrums. You can slip into, ‘This is a job I do for money and not a job I do because I love it.’

The more I do outside the show, it helps to come back here and it feels fresh, new, and different.

JBB Tech Half: So, it can give you a jolt.

JS: Yes, exactly!

JBB: Without the caffeine.

JS: That’s right, without the caffeine (chuckles).

JBB: We’ve chatted with so many people in the audience over the past several years who have told us why they connect with the show so much–Baby Boomers, kids hanging out with their parents or grandparents, guys who grew up in Jersey. I’m sure you have had fans tell you why Jersey Boys and your performance really hits home with them. Has there ever been anything that a fan has said to you about the show or your performance that has really stuck with you?

JS: I will admit in general that kids and Baby Boomers are my favorites, because the Baby Boomers are reliving a time in their lives that is so real and so visceral and you can see that they are talking about something that meant so much to them. They remember when they were 12, 13, 15 in 1963 and how much that music meant to them and how it takes them back to this sort of golden era in their minds. How can you not be affected by that? It’s so genuine. The kids are always my favorite because they have no agenda, no bullshit; they just loved the show. It was magic to them and they just want to meet you and talk.

Specifically, I sang the National Anthem for a Phillies playoff game a couple of years ago and I was in the box afterwards and met this couple who said, ‘We’re coming to see the show in a month or two…’ I said, ‘Great’—and never really thought twice about it.

They came, and sent me a note before: ‘Such and such are here…’ Then, I remembered who they were from the Phillies’ game and said, ‘Sure, you can bring them backstage…’

When I met them, they were bawling, hysterical crying. The man was mostly talking, because the woman was more or less inconsolable.

The man said, ‘Forgive me that we are so emotional…’ They went on to tell me that they lost a son to cancer in his 20s, and they said between watching me perform–I was just a little older than their son and I reminded them of him—and seeing my character lose a child on stage…they were so connected to it.

The father took hold of me and said, ‘Whatever good you think you do day after day, it’s 800 times that.’…and I thought, Wow—I mean, THERE is a reason to go to the theater every day.

JBB: That’s an amazing story, Jarrod. I can see why that one stands out. It’s like it really makes you think about your purpose.

JS: None of us are curing cancer. We all take our job seriously, which is good and bad. Sometimes we take our jobs too seriously, to a fault.

But we all want to be good at our jobs. This is what we do for a living and you want to take it seriously. People pay a lot of money to come see it and I want to make sure they get the best they can.

But, we’re not curing cancer, AIDS, or Parkinson’s, so what good are we doing? I’d like to think that we are part of the great tradition of art that is a cathartic experience for people. I hope it’s inspirational, that it takes them out of their head for 2 ½ hours, and it makes them think about life in a different way, even if it’s short-term, and makes them happy. Whatever it is–it turns around their one day; they had a shitty day and they come here and they feel better at the end, and that’s worth it.

The fans are EVERYTHING…and how they react to the show. As much as I think it’s the right thing to want to do this show the right way as a singer, as an actor, as an artist—you want to do the work, you want it to be good work because it’s a good show, it’s the thing you do with your life and you want to think you’re this vessel for the art, for the music. I’ve been singing since I was a little boy and I sort of feel like music passes though me in some way–I can’t think of doing anything else. I did other things and I had to quit them and come back to this, because it’s the only thing that felt right. It’s the only thing that makes me feel connected to the world in the right way.

But all of that aside, when people are affected in such a strong, positive way, THAT is what makes it a worthwhile occupation, a worthwhile thing to do with one’s life. It has to be about the connection with everyone in the theater. Otherwise, we’re all sort of just…masturbating on stage.


  1. Great interview and so inspiring.

    Jarrod commands the stage like no other I’ve ever seen. He was made for this role!

    Comment by sharon wardlow — May 30, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  2. What a terrific interview with Jarrod! You two asked good questions and let him go – and since he is so articulate, he was able to take it away. I too liked the “hallway” analogy, and I will admit that I teared up at his story of the couple who had lost their son. Well done, Susie & Dale, well done.

    Comment by Caroline Smith — May 30, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  3. These interviews have been outstanding. So impressed with how candid and profound Jarrod Spector is throughout the interview.

    He does a fantastic job as Frankie and seems like a genuinely nice guy as well.

    Comment by Joe — May 30, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

  4. i have seen the show twice already–in October last year just a couple of days after Andy and Quinn started and in February and took my daughter and her fiance in from LA–they loved the show so much and picked the song “My eyes adored you” Jarrods version from the play as their wedding song. would love to see it again because these guys love what they are doing on stage. the day after the show in Feb Jarrod did his show up here in Pomona NJ just minutes from my home and tried to get tickets but they were sold out. loved the interview

    Comment by frank — May 30, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

  5. Well done! I’m so glad Jarrod is so honest and detailed. I don’t read too many interviews that allows the subject to really express what he wants or has to say. I also teared up about the story of the couple. I guess entertainers, athletes or public figures don’t realize they and perhaps we all may have an impact on someone we may or may not meet. Thank you for a wonderful interview Susie and Dale

    Comment by Nita — May 31, 2012 @ 10:35 pm

  6. Very enjoyable interview – thanks to all three of you! Jarrod shares some interesting and thoughtful insights about being a performer that we audience members would otherwise be unaware of. And the “team approach” to conducting the interview adds to the reader’s enjoyment as well — looking forward to more of the same in the future.

    Comment by stubbleyou — June 2, 2012 @ 6:38 am

  7. Jarrod Spector was the reason I saw the show 4 times. I would see it 4 more, or 10 more, every year, even.

    Comment by Adam Leite — July 18, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

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