By Brian Scott Lipton
In his truly exciting new show at 54 Below, Jarrod Spector celebrates the greatest tenors of the past century, calling them the “kings of rock and roll.” By evening’s end, it’s clear that had Spector chosen not to devote his career to Broadway – having already logged 1500 performances as Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” and currently taking on the role of songwriter Barry Mann in the upcoming musical “Beautiful” – this slightly petite dynamo with the big voice and the killer falsetto could easily earn his own place in the vaulted pantheon of pop royalty.
For close to 90 minutes, aided by a kick-ass four-piece band and three wonderful backup singers, Spector lets loose on one hit after another with remarkable precision and versatility. In the first half of the show alone, Spector’s vocals range from beautifully bluesy on Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago,” to sweeter-than-sugar on the Disney classic “When You Wish Upon a Star,” snazzily jazzy on “Unchained Melody,” and passionate-as-hell on “Who’s Lovin’ You.”
What’s equally impressive about Spector is his willingness to take on songs deeply associated with music’s biggest superstars and creating versions that both pay homage to their originators while finding his own sense of individuality, whether it’s George Michael’s “Faith,” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” or Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” (where Spector also shows off his considerable skill as a pianist).
In a show made up of highlights, however, one number does rise higher than the rest: a brilliantly unexpected pairing of the Donizetti aria “Una Furtiva Lagrima” with an all-out take on Queen’s classic “Somebody to Love” that will have every audience member rising to his or her feet before the song’s end.
I do wish director Eric Michael Gillett, who has smartly helmed the show, put this number at the very end of the show, as everything that follows feels slightly anticlimactic, even the fabulous duet version of Jim Steinman’s power ballad “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” which pairs Spector with the soulful, strong-lunged Rachel Stern, and a small series of songs from “Jersey Boys” that had the crowd bopping and clapping.
Intriguingly, Spector ends the evening in a reflective mood with U2’s gorgeous “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But if you’re looking for an unforgettable evening of entertainment, you need look no further than this extraordinary act.
Jarrod Spector continues at 54 Below at 7pm on Sundays, November 3, 10, and 17.