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Oh, What a Show!

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Jewish Actor takes a bow as Italian legend Frankie Valli in the Chicago Production of Jersey Boys  
10/07/2008

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Walk Like A Man: Spector (left) with co-stars Drew Gehling, Bryan McElroy and Michael Ingersoll.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus


A nice Jewish boy from Philly playing a tough Italian boy from Jersey might not be such a big stretch when you consider that both chose their careers early in life. Sure, Jarrod Spector started out as a toddler with a performance of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and went on to get professional training while Frankie Valli was inspired by seeing Frank Sinatra perform live—and by his desire not to end up in the trunk of a car or in jail like many of the other kids in his neighborhood.

Regardless of their backgrounds, Spector brings Valli to life on stage—with high praise from the critics as well as Valli himself—in the Chicago production of  Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons . Spector performed the role of Frankie at the Bank of America theatre from October 2007 until last month.

   

The story of the rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi) tells the tale of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks came to be one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. The group wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide — all before they were 30, according to the show’s site.

The story is compelling and the familiar—and still popular—songs including, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and “Oh, What a Night” make for great entertainment.

Spector’s Valli has received rave reviews and meeting the man himself meant a lot to the actor. “Frankie was everything I wanted him to be,” Spector says. “There's a specific challenge in playing a real person, and meeting him there's a great risk--if you don't like the man, can you still love the character? But thankfully that couldn't have been less of an issue. He was very kind and being around him, I could feel why he became an icon. He's a star, he has that ineffable quality of drawing the attention of people around him.”

To prepare for the role Spector said he, “listened to Frankie's voice ad nauseum, and also watched old footage to get a feel for his style.” And his background helped with the ‘Jersey boy’ accent. “Well...I'm from Philly. The accent wasn't that unfamiliar. Couple of episodes of The Sopranos and almost anyone can do it.”

Spector’s parents are responsible for noticing their son’s musical inclination might be more than just the babbling of a two-year-old. “My parents took me over to a renowned local singing coach, Russell Faith, who took me on [as a student] and suggested that my parents take me over to try out for the Al Alberts Showcase, a local variety show in Philadelphia that aired on weekend mornings. They did, and a few weeks later I was singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" as a three-year-old on Philadelphia TV. I was on the show for almost four years and eventually went on to compete on Star Search (the Ed McMahon version) and perform on the Jerry Lewis Telethon.”

Performing on the variety show may have opened the door to other performing ventures for the young Spector but he was hardly an industry kid. “I didn't even know the words "musical theater" until I auditioned for Les Miserables when I was nine. I played Gavroche in the show for about three years, on and off, in Philly, Chicago and on Broadway.”

Because he was out on the road, he could not attend regular school or religious school, but managed to keep up with his Jewish studies even with his busy performing schedule.

“[I] had to have a tutor [for my Bar Mitzvah training] because my time in Les Miserables directly conflicted on Sundays during the few years leading up to my Bar Mitzvah. I'm very proud of my Jewish heritage and have great respect for Jewish traditions and values. And I'll tell you, as I play an Italian every night--the cultures are not that far apart!”

Spector’s familiarity with The Four Seasons' music also helped him prepare for the role of Frankie Valli. “When I went to audition for the show I knew every song almost by heart. My parents were big fans and played them for me.”

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Singing “My Eyes Adored You” (from left to right) Michael Ingersoll, Jarrod Spector, Drew Gehling and Bryan McElroy. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Spector was invited to audition for the original Broadway cast a few years back, but at the time the role went to someone else. It wasn’t until a year late that he was rehearsing for Hamlet at the Atlantic Theatre 2nd Stage that he got the call to come in and audition for the tour. This time he landed the part.

“Playing Hamlet did help--there are actually more similarities in the two seemingly antithetical characters than you'd think, and I credit playing Hamlet at the time with finding the gravity and depth I needed in the audition room.”

Right after talking with Oy! Spector got some big news. He’s been given the opportunity to play Frankie on Broadway. Today, Jarrod is back in New York City and local Chicagoan Corey Grant has taken over the role. Spector said there are many reasons why he will miss living and performing in the Windy City.

“I loved eating [the food here.]  Seriously. What a great array of restaurants, from Hot Doug's to Gibson's, my favorite. And going to the beach during the summer! I'm very much a New York guy, and I was kind of blown away being able to walk five blocks to a beach in the city. Oh, and the music! My cast frequented Kingston Mines, among other spots, and I was always blown away by the quality of the musicians in the city.”

Take in Jersey Boys at the Bank of America theatre, to purchase tickets, visit the official Web site at  http://www.jerseyboysinfo.com/chicago/

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