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Carole King musical 'Beautiful' explores the tapestry of her life

From the dozens of pop nuggets churned out in New York’s famed Brill Building in the ‘60s to the hits-stuffed “Tapestry” in the ‘70s, Carole King has seared her imprint on pop music history.

Her story is visceral, filled with drama and heartache, but also showcases the primal effect of music and its importance on a soul.

In January 2014, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” opened on Broadway. Stocked with songs written with Gerry Goffin — who became her husband in 1959 — and other familiar gems of the Brill Building era by songwriting pals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the musical immediately struck a successful chord.

That year, Jessie Mueller won a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of King (Mueller is now starring in another early Broadway hit, “Waitress,” and her sister, Abby, is handling the King role on tour), while the show gathered other accolades, including a 2015 Grammy Award for best musical theater album.

The awards-laden musical will bop through the Fox Theatre Tuesday through Sunday.

Although “Beautiful” is very much King’s story — and songs such as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” which she wrote at 17, take on new resonance in the musical’s context — the camaraderie and influence of Weil and Mann (played on tour by Becky Gulsvig and Ben Fankhauser) is an integral part of King’s bio.

The legendary songwriters behind such staples as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” a rock hit for the Animals, and “On Broadway,” made famous by the Drifters and George Benson, chatted recently from Los Angeles, where they moved from New York in 1973.

The delightful couple — married 55 years — frequently laughed and finished each other’s sentences (he calls her “Cyn,” she called him “adorable” more than once) as they recalled their lifetime friendship with King and the success of “Beautiful.”

Q: What did you think of your portrayals in the show?

Weil: It was a little surreal, but not because of what they were portraying, but seeing ourselves so young. It brought us back to that time. When we all saw it together in London, Carole and I sat together and we just sobbed. We were reliving it all. Having Carole sitting next to me made it all the more poignant.

Mann: The second time I saw it, (the cast) was singing and dancing to “On Broadway,” and I had that realization that they’re singing “On Broadway” ON BROADWAY. The reality of that was surreal.

Q: Did you have any input into the casting of Becky (Gulsvig) and Ben (Fankhauser) for the tour?

Weil: We do have casting approval of the people who play us. We saw tapes of them and I just remember, Becky is so adorable. I wish I had been that adorable! I don’t think I was. She just had that snappy Eve Arden quality.

Mann: Ben, he was kind of adorable. There was something about him that was humorous. He could say three words and there was humor behind them.

Q: There have been plenty of jukebox musicals centered on artists with beloved catalogs, but not all of them win Tonys and get to spin off onto a national tour. Why do you think everything has clicked with “Beautiful”?

Mann: It’s going to sound very immodest, but I really think they are great songs. Carole’s story is really a terrific story. The book just really worked and pulled everything together.

Weil: It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s about friendship and things that mean a lot to every generation. The baby boomers bring their children, who bring their children.

Mann: It really hit with the baby boomers. One of them even brought an embryo!

Q: What are your favorite moments in the show?

Mann: Anything with me in it, I love to watch! (laughs)

Weil: As do I … I love the way they did “On Broadway’” in a theatrical way instead of jazzy, like George Benson did it.

Mann: “Walking in the Rain.” We didn’t love the song, but it was almost done the right way (in the show), how my subconscious had planned it.

Q: How close have you been with Carole — and Gerry before his death — in recent years?

Mann: Always Carole. Gerry less so because he had a lot of problems. Even though Carole lived in Idaho a lot of the time, there is something about our connection that is everlasting.

Weil: It’s funny, she is one of the few people who know my whole history. We can talk in shorthand.

Q: You’ve been married more than 50 years in an industry not known for taking marriage too seriously. How important has music been to your personal relationship?

Mann: It’s the glue to our marriage.

Weil: When things are going well, there is no greater joy than sharing a creation. When they aren’t, well (laughs), then you both go down the rabbit hole.


“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”

7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday (May 24-26); 8 p.m. Friday (May 27); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (May 28); 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (May 29). $30-$150. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, .

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About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers the Atlanta Music Scene and entertainment news for print and online.