Jacob Heimer was a Barry Mann fan — even before he knew the songwriter’s name.
Growing up in Westport with eclectic musical tastes — he loved everything before, during and after the Elvis era — Heimer listened to the radio, and rummaged through his dad’s record collection.
“You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “Walking in the Rain,” “On Broadway” — he knew them all.
At Staples High School, Jacob’s band Sally’s Place (named for the popular record shop, owned by the beloved and influential Sally White) covered “I Love How You Love Me” — a 1961 song produced by Phil Spector, co-written by Mann.
Heimer was a talented musician and actor. At 13, he was part of the the Barrington Stage Company’s professional production of “Falsettos.” His Staples Players credits include “Oliver!,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
David Roth, Alice Lipson, James Andrew, Kevin Connors — all were huge influences on Heimer.
“I have ADD. Focusing is not easy,” Heimer says. “In theater, I could direct my energy really positively. Being in the performing arts helped my grades. And I had incredible support from everyone in my life — especially my family and teachers.”
In “Falsettos,” the youngster told an older cast member that he wanted to be a professional actor. Along the way, Heimer said, he’d probably wait tables.
“Don’t have a backup plan,” the man advised.
After Staples (Class of 2006) and Syracuse University — where he took advantage of the superb Shakespeare Globe program — Heimer searched for work.
His first paid Equity gig was a young audience’s show in Florida. Then he landed an “off-off-off-off Broadway” role in an “odd production about displacement camps, with puppets,” and had a lead in “Gold Star,” an indie movie with Robert Vaughn.
Cast in a Shakespeare production, he met his wife Iris, a talented actor. (She changed careers, and now works at the Center for Reproductive Rights.)
Five years ago, Heimer auditioned for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” It took a while, but he landed ensemble roles — and understudy for Barry Mann — in the first year of the jukebox musical’s national tour.
Thanks to his early introduction, Heimer knew more about Mann than he knew he knew. But after getting the role he read “Always Magic in the Air,” a book about the talented young songwriters who cranked out hit after hit — for solo artists, girl groups, rock bands, you name it — in the tiny, windowless rooms of Broadway’s Brill Building.
Heimer gained plenty of insights into Mann — including his relationship with Cynthia Weil, and “his own neuroses.”
Heimer calls the show “brilliantly written.” But after the tour ended, he and Iris headed to Italy for a vacation. On the last day — in a beautiful cave city with no cell reception — Heimer got a text from his agent. Could he play Barry Mann again for 2 months — on Broadway?
“It’s icing on the cake,” Heimer says of his current gig. He’s on stage through September 29. Ben Jacoby will resume the role in October, when the show closes after 6 years.
Making his Broadway debut a couple of weeks ago was “exhilarating,” Heimer notes. More than a dozen family members came to opening night.
“This is the most supportive group I’ve ever worked with. I was petrified — even though I knew the role. The cast didn’t know me. But they didn’t care that I wasn’t doing it like the guys before me. They welcomed me in.”
Playing Barry Mann in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre is a fantastic experience, Heimer adds. “This place was built for intimate music.”
With his long involvement with Barry Mann’s (and Carole King’s) music — even if he didn’t realize it at the beginning — does Heimer have a favorite song in the show?
“The lyrics of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ are so sensitive and vulnerable,” the King/Gerry Goffin tune.
“Singing ‘Walking in the Rain’ as a duet with Cynthia Weil is definitely a highlight.
“And ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ is such a great song.” Mann wanted to release it himself, Heimer says, but the Animals heard it and made it one of their anthems.
So: Has Heimer ever personally met the man he plays on stage?
Barry Mann is “alive and well in California. He’s a very sweet guy.” He’s seen “Beautiful” a few times — including the Los Angeles opening, where he met Heimer.
“He told me something that made me laugh out loud,” the actor says. “I’m keeping it to myself.”