NEW YORK (Reuters) - While most teenagers in the early 1960s were swooning over the pop stars, Carole King was busy writing songs for their idols that would send them to the top of the music charts.
From “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles and “Take Good Care of My Baby” for Bobby Vee to “The Loco-Motion” for Little Eva, King and her first husband Gerry Goffin penned a string of hits before she launched a solo career and produced her 1971 multiple Grammy Award-winning second album “Tapestry.”
“Beautiful - The Carole King Musical,” a new play in previews that opens on January 12 on Broadway, charts the rise of the songwriter, born Carol Klein in Brooklyn, from her early days as a teenager working with Goffin and songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in New York’s songwriting hub at 1650 Broadway through her divorce and move to California.
“It’s an embarrassment of riches,” director Marc Bruni said in an interview about the catalog of music King, 71, produced.
The songs, including “So Far Away,” “It’s Too Late,” “Up on the Roof” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” and the story of how she wrote her first hit at 17 and went on to become a chart-topping music legend, were an irresistible combination for Bruni.
“The idea that she was so young and she came to 1650 Broadway with her husband and collaborator Gerry Goffin and wrote these songs of a generation, and the opportunity to tell that story was very attractive to me,” said Bruni.
Actress Jessie Mueller, who earned a Tony nomination for her role opposite Harry Connick Jr. in 2011’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” plays King, while former “Spider-Man Turn off the Dark” star Jake Epstein is Goffin. Anika Larsen (“Avenue Q”) and Jarrod Spector (“Jersey Boys”) portray their best friends Weil and Mann.
Like writer Douglas McGrath, who was initially reluctant to write a play about four living people, Mueller admitted she was intimidated about portraying King, whose more than 400 compositions have been recorded by over 1,000 artists.
“With any role, you have to find your way in. In the beginning it was, ‘Oh my God. I’m playing a real person and a living legend. It’s Carole King,’” Mueller said.
“There is a fear behind that but eventually you have to find your way. She is such an authentic performer that at the end of the day, it’s like I have to bring enough of myself to it so it comes across authentic to an audience.”
With the show’s focus on King’s early music with Goffin, audiences are given a look into the songwriting process and how they produced hits for other people.
“You see how that structure followed her. She rode the wave of music and she became a singer/songwriter,” said Mueller. “A lot of the people who started with her didn’t go that way, or weren’t able to make that leap, but she did.”
King had reservations about a musical based on her life but was convinced to go ahead with the project by her daughter and manager, Sherry Goffin Kondor, who is a producer of the musical.
“I’m actually not going to see it,” King said in an interview with the cable news network MSNBC. “I saw an early reading and realized it was too hard for me to watch very emotional moments of my life on stage.”
Bruni described the show as a play with songs because of the way the music is tightly integrated into the script and an essential part of the story.
“We tried very hard to make it feel like a coherent theatrical piece in its own right, detailing a very clear story without feeling like we were just capitalizing on the previous fame of the songs,” he explained.
“We wanted to give people a window into how they were written, why they were written, what the circumstances were and the struggles of the writers.”
Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Marguerita Choy