We’ve all sung our hearts out to Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” on a long car ride or cried to “It’s Too Late” after a challenging break up. King wrote or co-wrote over 118 hits between 1955 and 1999, making her the most successful female songwriter in the second half of the 20th century. But, even as she’s made her way onto our radios and into our hearts, few people know the incredible story of how she got there. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” playing at the Boston Opera House through February 10, tells it all.
“Her work is really melodic and original sounding, but it’s very accessible. I can hear her influence in female songwriters today,” says Sarah Bockel who plays King in the tour production.
Bockel had “Tapestry” on vinyl in her childhood, but never knew the breadth of King’s work until she joined the production. For more than 20 years “Tapestry” held the record for most weeks on the charts as the number one album by a female artist. King has also won four Grammy Awards and spots in both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When King (born Carol Klein) had her first hit at 17 years old, the odds were stacked against her. She was married to her college sweetheart Gerry Goffin and pregnant with their first daughter. They had dropped out of Queens College to work full time to pay the bills.
King never gave up on her dream to make music, and their song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” written for The Shirelles was a smash hit. This was just the start of what would be a roller coaster ride of a life and career.
The one standard during the ups and downs in King’s marriage and music was her friend Cynthia Weil, played by Alison Whitehurst. In “Beautiful” this tight-knit female friendship is explored prominently. “I think what united them was being women. There are things we walk through and experience that men simply don’t,” says Whitehurst, adding that women today still use these close-knit female friendships to stay grounded. Bockel agrees that in the male dominated industry, and world, the two women needed each other for support.
In addition to the book by Tony and Academy Award nominee Douglas McGrath and choreography by Josh Prince, “Beautiful” features dozens of timeless hits written by King/Goffin and Mann/Weil. The show is still enjoying a sold-out run on Broadway five years after its debut.
The production provides an inside look at the life of an extraordinary woman and a legendary artist who created her most powerful work during the hardest times of her life. Bockel says women today can learn from King’s perseverance and optimism, “She really rolled with the punches and worked with what life gave her, and I think that’s a story everyone can relate to.”
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
January 29-February 10
Tickets start at $44.50
Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston