The Tony & Grammy Award-winning Broadway hit “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” about the early life and career of the legendary singer/songwriter will make its Indianapolis premiere at Clowes Memorial Hall at the Butler Arts Center one week only, from January 30 – February 4.
With a book by Tony® and Academy® Award-nominee Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince, “Beautiful” features an array of beloved songs written by Gerry Goffin/Carole King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil. The show opened on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in January 2014, where it has since broken all box office records and recently became the highest-grossing production in the theatre’s history.
Carol Klein, a Brooklyn girl with determination and passion, fought her way into the record business as a teenager and, by the time she reached her twenties, had a happy marriage and a promising career writing hits for the biggest acts in rock ‘n’ roll. But, it wasn’t until her personal life began to unravel that King finally managed to find her true voice. “Beautiful” tells the true story of King’s rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history. Along the way, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation. Songs included in the musical include “I Feel the Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and the title song, “Beautiful.”
Starring as King in this Broadway in Indianapolis presentation is Sarah Bockel. Earlier this week, I spoke with her from Chicago by phone, where the production was playing prior to its Indy run. Herein is an edited transcript of the interview.
Your bio indicates that you are rejoining the tour of “Beautiful.” What is your history with the show?
I was the understudy for a year and a half before I took over the role of Carole. I was on the road for 18 months and then I left for five months and recently came back.
How is the show going in Chicago?
It’s great. I live here.
Tell me about your background.
I moved to Chicago after college and just started auditioning. I went to Illinois Wesleyan. Chicago has always been a great theatre town. I grew up seeing shows here.
Do you enjoy touring?
It’s a hard life and it is definitely not for everyone but it is not continuously forever. It’s a great way to see the country, but it takes a lot out of you. The people who do it find ways to make a home wherever they go.
You and our cast mates really bond, don’t you?
It’s like a family. You get used to everybody’s idiosyncrasies and you love them anyway. They are like your siblings. We move. It is kind of like this amoeba. Whether you want to or not you are included in our family and we are supportive of one another.
When I saw the show on Broadway, the majority of those in the audience were Baby Boomers. Is that still the case?
Oh, sure, but we are also attracting younger audiences, which is very exciting. They have heard the cast recording so Carole is getting a new fan base.
I take it you have met her?
Twice. She’s incredibly gracious and pays attention to everyone. She lets everyone get their selfies. We all have had our own picture taken with her.
What was your audition process like? Were they looking for Carole King look-alikes and/or sound-alikes?
Those of us who have played her on Broadway or on tour are all different body types. The thing that we have in common is that we are all kind of normal, down-to-earth, goofy, self-effacing women—some of the qualities she possesses. In the audition process, they ask you to sing like yourself. They don’t want it to be an impression. They want you to have your own sound, but of course, they are looking for a rhythmic, warmer pop sound, so I like to add in Carole’s confidence because that is what people are expecting to hear…her voice.
What about the piano playing?
I am playing a little bit, but nothing is mixed.
Are you a trained pianist?
No, I am not. I can play some chords but the piano music is all played by our conductor.
Why does Carole’s album “Tapestry,” some of the songs which are in the show, have such staying power?
Carole has this uncanny ability to write really memorable and singable melodies that last and stick with you. Her ex-husband did write some of the lyrics she sings in “Tapestry,” even though it was kind of her break-up album, inspired by her divorce. They were such an incredible team. They used abstract phrases that everyone can connect to like “You make feel like a natural woman.” That means something different to everyone or “It’s too late”—just that simple phrase. Or “You are as beautiful as you feel.” Everybody is going to be able to interpret those things in their own way. They are very identifiable to everyone. She has a gift for it.
What is your own history with Carole King?
I was very into 70s music when I was a teenager. I was really into Janis Joplin. I am really more of a Joni Mitchell fan. I have “Tapestry” on vinyl, but I was definitely more interested in Joni Mitchell, but who knew I was more of a Carole than a Joni? This show just really intrigued me. To be able to sing “It’s Too Late,”—everybody’s break-up song—but also my own break-up song before I was even in “Beautiful.” So it is exciting to be connected with it.
How old are you?
I am 29.
Did your mom and dad listen to Carole King?
My mom is a big Righteous Brothers fan, so I am definitely into the same genre. Elvis Presley is more along those lines. My mother really wasn’t a free spirit or hippie (laughs). My parents were more serious. They got married in 1969, so they were exactly the right age to know all the songs, so it is hilarious to hear them say, “Of course, we listened to all that stuff.”
Did you work with the actor who played Carole before you?
Oh, yes. I have an advantage playing this role because I was an understudy of actors who were doing their own interpretation and then I put my own stamp on the role. All in all, I have been working on this role for about three years and playing it for the last five months.
How do you keep your performance fresh each night?
Your mind is always in a different place. I thought I would have trouble with that, but it is kind of the easiest thing. In each scene, your mind wanders to different places in the scene and you began to notice things you hadn’t before. You are more aware of details.
Do different audiences help in that process?
Oh, of course. Every city we go to is different, how the house is set up, how far we are from the audience; sometimes if they are too far away, we can’t hear them. In that case, we have to stick to one another because we are not really sure how to play off the audience. It’s ideal when we can hear them and get a rhythm from the jokes and the laughter in response. Sometimes, the audience wants to laugh and sometimes they want to listen. The audience may be tired. Saturday matinees really have a lot of energy, but on Friday nights, they are sleepy because they have finished their work week. We have to work harder on those days to keep them awake.
When I saw the show, it seemed to me that it had to do a lot with the creative process of songwriting. Would you agree with that?
Yes. It was a lesson in songwriting.
Are you a songwriter yourself?
No, I am not. I like singing other people’s songs.
How long will you be on the tour?
I don’t know (laughs).
What would you like to do?
I would like to be paid to sing and act. That would be great (laughs).
Do you perform concerts and/or cabaret?
Yes, I like to do all that stuff. We did a concert here for Equity Cares Fight Aids. We did a big collaboration with “Wicked” and “Hamilton.” It was so much fun. I got to sing a Joni Mitchell song. I love to sing pop, rock and folk music. I am so used to singing pop music every night. Now, it is all I want to sing.
By the way, do you happen to know Josh Prince who choreographed “Beautiful?” He’s from Indy.
Oh, really? The first year when we were in New York, I met him then and he comes out occasionally to do clean up.
What makes your cast unique?
We have a younger cast than in the past. You can expect some hunger and energy and real passion on stage. They can really expect to be taken on a ride.
What can those who have never seen the show expect?
You can expect to know the songs. You may not think so, but you will (laughs).
Tickets for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” are on sale now and are available in person at Clowes Memorial Hall, the Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayinIndianapolis.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.