I had the pleasure of getting to see Beautiful: A Carole King Musical as part of the touring Broadway musical series when it came through Austin. Growing up in a household that heavily rotated music from the 1950s to the 70s, Carole King was not new to me. But learning about her life and the breadth of her music definitely was prior to the musical.
The musical tells the story of Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin as a songwriting and composing team, focusing on both their relationship and their relationship with best friends and fellow musicians Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It evolves as they become a dominant force in writing some of the biggest hits of the 50s and 60s like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Locomotion” and “One Fine Day.” Ben Fankhauser, the actor who plays Barry Mann, spoke with me about his the show and his experiences with it.
“There’s this wildly famous catalog of music put to a fascinating story. Music production in the 50s and 60s was very different. All that music was generated out of an office building with a small cubicle of composers,” Fankhauser told me. We get to see straight into the office building and the music building and evolving King, Goffin, Mann, and Weil become a larger force in the music industry. We get to see King and Goffin fall in love, go through tough times, and rely on her songwriting and friends to propel her through her life.
Fankhauser said he relates to Mann because they’re both artists. “There are similarities to how I approach this character the same way Barry would approach a song.” He told me the scriptwriter wrote a well-rounded and hilarious character in Mann that can bring some comic relief by being a bit neurotic and a bit of a hypochondriac which Fankhauser also relates to.
“It’s always an interesting undertaking to take on a real life character, to find their essence without making a characterization out of them. While we are playing reach characters, we are more going for the essence of these people. It’s been challenging to find the similarities between Barry and myself and be aware of the challenges I face as an artist and connect that to the character.”
While the show travels across America can be exciting, Fankhauser said it brings a challenge to move to a new city every week and acclimate to new places and have to perform eight shows a week at the top of their game. While that may be a challenge, he said he is intrigued by the timeless catalog of music they bring to the stage. “It’s about that era of time when American sound was taking shape,” Fankhauser explains. While a lot of people know Carole King from her album Tapestry, she was behind a lot of great hits of the time.
When asked what sort of person should see the show, Fankhauser says all the baby-boomers should be first in line to get tickets along with the people who grew up listening to Carole King. “It’s a must-see for them.” He goes on to say young adults are next in line because they’ll surely be able to recognize the music. “The story is full of young determination, heartbreak, huge successes, highs and lows in this young person’s career which is a story everyone can relate to.”
Fankhauser ended by saying the greatest thing about this show is the chance it gives people to recall this music and have an unbelievable sense of nostalgia so they can be transported to where they were and what they were going through when they heard the songs. It gives them a chance to attach themselves personally to the show. “The show is bringing catharsis and joy and memories.”
When I saw the show, I felt exactly what Fankhauser explained about nostalgia. I remember dancing to “The Locomotion” on stage as a young child and recalled the feelings of one of my early jazz performances. I think “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is one of those songs that exemplifies both being in deep love for the first time and feeling a true heartbreak. Getting to see King perform that song several times as she felt both love and then heartbreak provides even more depth to her music.
If you have a chance to see this show, you will feel the power of King’s music and see exactly what kind of transformative songwriter her, Goffin, Mann, and Weil were. It will leave you feeling both hopeful and inspired.