A TAPESTRY OF GREATEST HITS IS ROLLED OUT IN ‘BEAUTIFUL,’ THE AWARD-WINNING CAROLE KING MUSICAL BIO
DID YOU EVER FEEL the Earth move under your feet? Or believe that one fine day the guy would wake up and realize what a fool he’d been?
A few decades ago — make that four — did you put the needle down on that Tapestry LP something like a thousand times?
If you can nod yes to any of these, singer-songwriter Carole King once occupied a slice of your mind, or heart, or both.
Maybe she still does.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, tells the story of the former Carol Klein of Brooklyn, who as solo artist Carole King topped the pop charts in the early 1970s, stayed there for years and won millions of lifelong fans.
In reviewing Beautiful, New York Times critic Ben Brantley compared the 2014 show, in part, to the 2005 Broadway hit Jersey Boys, which told the back story of the Four Seasons. Brantley pointed out that “you can’t go broke helping AARP members recall the soundtrack of their youths.”
BEAUTIFUL, LIKE JERSEY BOYS, is packed with hits. King, considered one of the most successful songwriters of the past 50 years, has written or co-written more than 400 songs. Those songs have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists. Some 120 have been certifiable pop hits.
Perhaps the richest and most famous of King’s 25 solo albums is 1971’s Tapestry, which today plays like a best-of compilation. Besides the title track, it includes “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” “Beautiful,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Where You Lead,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
“What I really love are the gasps of excitement and recognition throughout the audience as people realize she wrote songs they didn’t even know she wrote,” says Abby Mueller, the Chicago-raised actor who’s spending a year playing King in Beautiful’s first national tour.
“Her specific journey involves what she had to go through in life before she found her own voice, and also shows the way the recording industry was working at the time. It was all about writing songs for other people. It was a big shift to write songs that you performed yourself, and she was at the very beginning of that.”
BEAUTIFUL BEGINS with King’s early songwriting efforts in the late 1950s and ’60s, when she and lyricist-partner Gerry Goffin wrote hits for others. Besides “Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin, the list includes “Up on the Roof” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” (for the Drifters); “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Go Away Little Girl” (for Bobby Vee); “The Loco-Motion” (for Little Eva); and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (for the Monkees). Tapestry’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was written for the Shirelles.
Goffin, the first of King’s four husbands, is a central character here, as are Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, the long-married songwriting team and friendly rivals. King relocated to California’s Laurel Canyon in 1968, when her marriage ended, and pursued a solo career alongside Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
Her solo success came big and fast. “Carole spoke from the heart, and she happened to be in tune with the mass psyche,” Weil said later. “People were looking for a message, and she came to them with a message that was exactly what they were looking for.”
IN THE 2008 BOOK Girls Like Us, which focuses on King, Mitchell and Carly Simon, author Sheila Weller writes that by the early 1970s, King “would represent an inclusive new role of female sensuality: the young ‘natural’ woman, the ‘earth mother.’ ”
King, now 74, was a pioneer, says Mueller. “Her songs are poetic and simple, yet powerful. She has always had this very rare ability to sum up in a deeply truthful and relatable way how women feel about things, how people in general feel about things.”
Mueller’s sister Jessie, by the way, originated the role of King in Beautiful on Broadway and won a 2014 Tony Award for doing so.
Abby Mueller is happy to point out that she won the role in the national tour on her own, through the typical audition process. And, just like Jessie did on Broadway, she really plays the piano in Beautiful (with backup from the orchestra).
It’s “pure joy and an honor” to perform King’s songs, Mueller says. “They have such a rare honesty and raw vulnerability. They evoke certain times and moments in your life that matter.”
She considers King as “the real star of the show.”
Did she get any advice from the music legend?
“I did. She said, ‘Have fun being me. And just enjoy the music.’ ”