Barry’s a Jewish kid musician from a Northeast city — that’s me,” said Philadelphia native Jarrod Spector, referring to Brooklyn-born Barry Mann, one half of the legendary songwriting duo of Mann and (Cynthia) Weil. “But I’m not as neurotic as Barry is portrayed in the show.”
Jewish neuroses or not, Spector, who plays Mann in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” is on a roll these days. Not only was he recently voted Broadway’s Sexiest Man Alive on broadway.com, but the 33-year-old actor, who showed up for an interview at The Jewish Week looking stylishly tousled in jeans and a growth of beard, earned a Tony nomination for best featured actor in a musical. That was one of many accolades for his portrayal of Mann, who co-wrote such classics as “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “On Broadway” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
“It’s still hard to wrap my mind around,” said Spector of the Tony nod. “It’s really humbling.”
“Beautiful” tells the story of the Jewish girl from Brooklyn (formerly Carol Klein) who would write and perform some of the greatest songs of her generation, including “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” The show focuses on King’s (Jessie Mueller) relationship with her now ex-husband, Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein). Also prominent in the story are King’s friends and sometimes rivals, Mann and Weill (Anika Larson).
Like Mann, who had his first hits in his early 20s, Spector got an early career start. Raised in a Reform Jewish household, Spector was a child singer-actor, appearing on TV’s “Star Search” and then landing a role in “Les Miserables” on Broadway. He “retired” as a teenager, but while at Princeton studying to be an investment banker, he found the pull of the stage too strong. (He logged time as a wedding and bar mitzvah singer too). Before “Beautiful,” Spector played Frankie Valli in the hit Broadway show “Jersey Boys.”
When he first became involved in “Beautiful,” the narrative of the self-made musicians instantly drew him in.
“These Jewish kids in 1650 Broadway [the Aldon Music publishing shop] writing all these hits for all these black and soul groups,” said Spector. “It’s an amazing story.”
In preparing to play Mann, Spector decided to “delve into” his Judaism, with visits The Jewish Museum to see its recent Marc Chagall and Art Spiegelman exhibits.
“Both of those exhibits had to do with art focused around the Holocaust and World War II, and it’s hard not to connect visually, I think, to being Jewish when you’re looking at art, reading and hearing about people’s first-hand experiences in this time,” he said. “And obviously ‘Beautiful’ is a feel-good show and it [takes place] 15 years later, so it’s all fine; but it’s nice to connect to that when you’re about to portray a Jewish character.”
Spector received raves for a series of shows last month at 54 Below in conjunction with a new CD, “A Little Help From My Friends.” (Mann joined him onstage for a rendition of “On Broadway.”
In addition to walking the Tony red carpet Sunday at Radio City, Spector has a concert in Port Washington on June 14. He’s currently booked in “Beautiful” through September, and will see where his career takes him next. He’s half-joked about seeking out musicals where he can play The Boss (he’s been referred to as a “clean-cut baby Bruce Springsteen”) or Leonard Cohen (Spector covered “Hallelujah” on an album).
Either way, a little Jewish neurosis couldn’t hurt.