The most amazing thing about Jarrod Spector is how effortless he makes everything look. When not charming audiences as Barry Mann in Broadway's Beautiful — The Carole King Musical, he's performing his cabaret show, A Little Help From My Friends, at 54 Below. Naturally, he opens with a rollicking up-tempo arrangement of the titular Lennon-McCartney tune (accented by riffs that smack of Frankie Valli and Barry Gibb). This sets the eclectic and exuberant tone for the rest of the show. His clarion tenor soars over the tables of the Broadway supper club and into your ears, infecting the body with an irresistible urge to dance.
Spector premises his show on a thesis: Popular music is destined to change over time, but the high tenor sound has an unparalleled expressive role throughout that evolution. "Keep your hands and feet inside the DeLorean," he warns while demonstrating the time-traveling idea with a medley of "When I Was Your Man" (as sung by Bruno Mars), "Faith" (George Michael), and "Good Vibrations" (The Beach Boys). The songs transition seamlessly into one another, and you feel like you're attending a master class in American pop music.
Not only does he have an astounding vocal range but a wide appreciation for seemingly disparate music styles. He pairs "Una Furtive Lagrima" from Donizetti's opera L'elisir d'amore with Freddie Mercury's "Somebody to Love" and their connection feels perfectly natural. Opera never stopped being popular, it just put on a pair of leather pants and suspenders.
Spector proves his blues chops with Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago." He then sings a smooth jazz version of "Unchained Melody" as he believes it would be sung by Little Jimmy Scott (a huge influence on Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons front man who Spector played for a remarkable 1,500 performances in Jersey Boys). All this leads to the birth of rock and roll, a high point in the show represented by Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Tutti Frutti." Spector wails on these songs while music director Adam Ben-David flies on the piano, proving it to be the stealthy percussion instrument that it is.
Elton John, Bono, Billy Joel, and of course Frankie Valli all make appearances in this evening jam-packed with rock and pop hits. Three backup singers (John Edwards, Teresa Gattison, and Rachel Stern) support Spector in his whirlwind tour. Stern wows us in a duet of Jim Steinman's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" (as made famous by Celine Dion). Jake Schwartz carries us away with some dirty guitar solos while Sean McDaniel (percussion) and Mat Fieldes (bass) hold it all together with an unshakable beat. Ben-David stays firmly planted at the piano, only moving when Spector takes over for Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." His arrangements are perfectly tailored to Spector's voice while simultaneously remaining faithful to the original feel of the music as written.
The American Idol era has made superfluous key changes and glory notes de rigueur in covers of pop classics, robbing the music of power on its own terms. To the contrary, a truly versatile performer like Spector can step into any era of music and make it sound authentic and beautiful. He definitely proves his thesis, and we have a great time watching him do it.