At just 17 years of age, singer-songwriter Carole King wrote ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ with husband, Gerry Goffin. Recorded by The Shirelles, it was a song that soared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and was ultimately one of a plethora of enduring hits written by the pair. Theirs is a catalogue that features classics such as ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’ (performed by Bobby Vee), ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ (performed by The Drifters), ‘The Locomotion’ (which launched the career of Australia’s own international pop superstar, Kylie Minogue) and ‘One Fine Day’ (performed by The Chiffons).
King later found success as a solo artist, notably with her Grammy Award-winning ‘Tapestry’ album, a record that included her own reinterpretations of tracks she’d penned for other artists, which sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. On top of that, both King and Goffin were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2003, ‘Tapestry’ was ranked at number 36 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Carole King is truly a legend of the music world; almost six decades after beginning her career, her songs are loved around the world. And now, in 2017, Sydney is about to get the chance to see the smash hit Broadway musical that pays homage to King. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical opens next month at the Sydney Lyric Theatre, starring Esther Hannaford as King and Josh Piterman as Goffin. They’ll be joined on stage by Amy Lehpamer and Mat Verevis, playing Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – another hugely successful songwriting team of the era that created some of the most influential pop songs in musical history. Among their credits is ‘He’s sure the boy I love’ (performed by The Crystals) and ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling’ (written with Phil Spector), which became the most played song on American radio and TV in the 20th century.
Theatre People was fortunate to sit down with Piterman, Lehpamer and Verevis to discuss the music, the artists who conceived these classic tracks, and what audiences can expect from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
When it comes to King’s music, Lehpamer has long been a fan. She’s even had the chance to see the living legend in concert.
“I went to her concert a few years ago with my dad,” she tells Theatre People. “It was one of those gigs that’s kind of transformative. I wept as soon as she started playing!
“She’s a fantastic storyteller, and she had the audience in the palm of her hand. I adore her and the skill that she has, and the humility that she has as an artist as well.”
Lehpamer describes herself as a fan of the 1960s as a music-making time.
“The Beatles, Burt Bacharach and Carole King have always been seminal artists and sounds that have always inspired me,” she says.
Similarly, Piterman’s love of King’s music dates back a long way.
“Carole King, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Jones and Elvis are my go-tos – anytime, anywhere, any car trip, that’s what I go to! That music has just been ingrained in me for so long,” he says.
“Mum and Dad had the ‘Tapestry’ album on vinyl … It’s such a strong part of my upbringing that I can’t not love all these songs … There are so many songs that you don’t realise that she wrote … It’s great that we get to have The Shirelles and The Drifters in this show. They’re some of the best moments in the show … And we’ve got such a good bunch of people singing those roles! The voices in this cast are outrageous! I’m excited!”
Verevis too recalls an introduction to King’s music at an early age.
“I grew up in a musical household – my dad is a jazz pianist – so Carole was in my life pretty early,” he says.
“I think the first singing lesson I ever had, my singing teacher put ‘So far away’ in front of me … I hadn’t heard of Carole prior to that … And then my Dad said, ‘Listen to this album’. So then, from a really early age, I was listening to ‘Tapestry’.”
It may come as a surprise to many people just how prolific a songwriter King was in her heyday. Piterman mentions the fact of her having co-written ‘The Locomotion’.
“That’s a song that’s entrenched within the psyche of Australia, and it’s Carole’s doing,” he says.
“I didn’t know that Carole King wrote that until this, I didn’t know that she wrote ‘Up on the roof’, I didn’t know that she wrote ‘Some kind of wonderful’, and these were all huge songs for other artists from the sixties.”
Lehpamer says: “They are entrenched, and I think that’s the mark of an amazing songwriter – that no matter who has covered the songs or taken the songs and made them their own, they have touched people and become a part of their life, which is fantastic.”
As discussion turns to the roles they’ll be playing, Piterman talks about the late Goffin, who passed away in 2014.
“Gerry was kind of the cool kid at school and then went off to study chemistry, but was always a budding poet and played with writing lyrics,” Piterman says.
“As the show captures, he’s busy writing a play and there’s this scene in it that needs a song. He’s written the lyrics but he needs someone to write some music for it, and that’s where he meets Carole. That started a musical relationship that led to 50 Top 40 hits.
“It also – as a lot of artistic relationships do – led to a more intimate relationship. They were each other’s first husband and wife, they had kids very young and the relationship didn’t end up working out. But I think they were always very appreciative of each other in each other’s lives because it was the beginning of something very special for both of them.”
Lehpamer enjoys the emphasis the show places on the journey of songwriters in pursuit of their craft.
“I think the lovely thing about this show is that exploration of not only two people finding their artistic life together, but also choosing that life, as opposed to doing anything else,” she says.
“For those two people, it’s the thing that they have to do, they’re compelled to do it, it’s their vocation, and I think everyone on stage has that passion. And it’s not about the fame that they end up with – that’s secondary to all four of them, I think. They were just really passionate about making these songs.
“The music that was coming out of those New York studios was incredible. And the sounds that they were producing, they were being so bold and so brave … They created sounds.”
“But so simple too,” Piterman adds. “You look at music now – it’s so layered and so produced, and so many things are going on. They just wrote great lyrics and great melodies.”
Lehpamer believes the focus on the process, not the pursuit of fame, makes for compelling viewing in Beautiful.
“In our popular culture, we look at that apex, we look at the artists so often. Even in a show like Jersey Boys, it’s all about the performances. In this, you’re actually seeing the other side of it – you are seeing those names on the record sleeves come alive, and I think that’s wonderful.”
Verevis talks about his process of learning more about Mann.
“There are a lot of similarities I’m finding between his life and what I would like to do with my life,” he says.
“He was also a songwriter who struggled with lyrics, and when Cynthia came along … they complemented each other in that way.”
Each of the performers in Beautiful is tasked with playing a real person, and Lehpamer says there’s a fine line between imitation and a performance. She recently faced a similar challenge, playing the title role in The Production Company’s acclaimed staging of Dusty. It’s a portrayal for which Lehpamer earned a Helpmann Award nomination.
“It’s an interesting process because you owe the person you’re portraying a full life, and we don’t actually ever know that person to their fullest extent,” she says. “There might be footage for days, but we actually don’t know them.
“So, as a performer, we’ve got to fill in the gaps … Our job is to make this three-dimensional, thinking, feeling person, and the best way to go about it is the source material every time, I think. You go to the script and you see what their relationships are, and you see what the hallmarks of that person are, because you may have certain ideas about that person, but that’s always perception, it’s not actually necessarily how they wanted to come across.”
She continues: “It is more complicated than an imitation, and I think also more forgiving than that as well because what I found is that the audience also just wants to be taken through the story and they want to be captured and they want to believe that you are in that world and playing that person. So, you have more rope than you think you do, I think.”
For Verevis, it’s about asking questions.
“Instead of reacting to the script, it’s just asking why they said it and trying to get into the way of thinking of that person. I do like to watch as many interviews and that sort of thing just to get an idea or a sense of someone. You’re never going to fully put their skin on and walk all the miles they have because it’s impossible, but you do your best and try to be honest and real.”
For Lehpamer and Piterman, Beautiful is a reunion of sorts, being the first time the two have worked together in a decade.
“Josh and I first worked together at Tokyo Disneyland 10 years ago,” Lehpamer says.
“We dished out the Chattanooga Choo Choo like no one’s dished it out,” Piterman adds.
He also points out the fact that the theatre landscape in Australia today looks somewhat different to how it did at that time.
“The same time that we [Amy and I] were getting into [the industry] – 2007/2008 – we were dealing with the GFC, and that was a scary time. And then, people were saying, ‘Musicals aren’t going to happen, they’re too hard to put on’. But I think producers at every level – independent level to Michael Cassel’s and John Frost’s level – have been really gutsy over the last decade, and audiences are going to see musical theatre.”
So, almost six decades on from King’s beginnings as a hit-maker, what is it about Beautiful that makes it the right time to bring the show to Australian audiences?
“I think what’s special about Beautiful – that we probably haven’t seen in any other musical – is that it brings the best of theatre, the best of musical theatre and the best of concert, and that’s a combination that makes it stand out from the crowd,” Piterman says. “That’s why people say you go out really feeling like you’ve had an intense theatrical experience, but you go out singing the songs like you went to an epic concert.”
He also sees Beautiful as a means of sharing these classic tracks with younger generations who may be yet to experience them.
“I can’t wait for 15, 16, 20-year-olds to really talk about this music,” he says.
“This show has so much heart in it, and then a songbook that is second to none,” says Lehpamer.
“And then, you’ve got this incredible story that is unfamiliar to most people … and it is a modern story. It’s got a very girl power sensibility about it. The women are strong and the women are determined and outside of their time. They were really forward-thinking, and I think that that creates the framework for a show that does have something for everyone.”
BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL – SEASON DETAILS
Season: Commences Sunday 17 September, 2017
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Pirrama Road, Pyrmont)
Tickets: From Ticketmaster on 1300 795 267 or www.ticketmaster.com.au
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