Interview: Jarrod Spector Sinks His Teeth Into Playing Steven Spielberg in Bruce
The world-premiere musical is running at Seattle Rep through July 3.
Having made a big splash on Broadway 10 years ago when he took over the role of singer Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, Jarrod Spector has since delighted audiences by playing two other famous men in the entertainment world: songwriter Barry Mann in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (for which he earned a Tony Award nomination) and Sonny Bono in The Cher Show. This month, he's portraying someone even more famous: Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg in the new musical, Bruce, at Seattle Rep – which tells the fraught story of the making of the landmark film Jaws. (Bruce was the name given to the mechanical shark.)
TheaterMania recently spoke to Spector about working on the show, why he keeps playing real people onstage, and balancing his career as a concert artist with his theater career.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The making of Jaws does not automatically sound like a musical. So, what is there to sing about?
That's such a good question. The first rule of musical theater is that when the emotion is too big to speak, you sing. What makes sense here for us is that the stakes involved in making Jaws were so high – maybe not compared to real life, but within the vacuum of filmmaking. It was the first feature film for Spielberg, who convinced all these veteran producers to let him be in charge, and the stakes kept getting higher as things went from bad to worse during production, especially as the mechanical shark kept not working.
You weren't born when Jaws came out. Are you aware of just how big a cultural phenomenon it was in the 1970s?
Yes. When I was a kid, my parents thought I was too young to see it. Just knowing about it, I was afraid to go into the pool, never mind the ocean. And you realize that people never thought about sharks before the movie came out; now we all think about them when we go swimming because of this movie. And when you really understand movie history, you become even more aware of the film's impact on the industry.
What kind of research did you do for the role? Did you talk to Spielberg?
I have not, but I gather the production has some blessing from him. I hope I am not doing anything he disapproves of because he's the last person I would want to disappoint. Anyway, I watched all the documentaries on the subject that I could, and I listened to all the podcasts about the movie. However, I didn't rewatch the movie immediately – of course, I did eventually — because I wanted to look at the script from the lens of someone who hadn't seen the movie yesterday. In fact, I wanted to make sure the show would be appealing to people who didn't know the movie. And I think somebody like that can enjoy it, because what the show is really about is creativity.
This is the fourth real person you've played onstage. Are you drawn to roles like that?
Not really, but I wear it as a badge of honor to have been cast as all these impactful people. I do put a lot of work once I'm cast into capturing someone's distinct sound or style or walk; I really try to bring the externals in. It's so important that the audience can suspend their disbelief while watching me.
What's it like to "capture" Spielberg?
Honestly, I don't have to sound like him when I sing or even speak because not everyone even knows what he sounds like. Unlike my other roles, this is more about intellectually getting into his head, rather than his body. That said, he does have this southern California vibe, which I've tried to capture. And when you see him talk, he always seems a little shy even if he's never at a loss for words.
You've also done cabarets and concerts. Do you prefer those formats to doing theater?
I think one begets the other; people don't come see me in concert unless they already know me because of my Broadway shows. I do love the autonomy of concerts, and the collaborations with other people I get to have working on them, including my wife [actor Kelli Barrett]. Theater is a totally different medium. It's less responsibility for me onstage, since I am just a cog in a much bigger machine. And I get to hide behind a different character, which is cool. If I can sustain doing both, I will consider myself very fortunate.