Critically-acclaimed “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” comes to the Eisenhower Auditorium stage next week, with several chances to see the Tony and Grammy Award-winning hit.
The musical focuses on King’s early career and her relationships with husband Gerry Goffin and best friends and fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. There’s no need to be familiar with King’s legendary songwriting prowess or any of her work to love the show, though.
“The show is about somebody having a dream and deciding to walk toward that and I feel like anybody at any age can relate,” said Alison Whitehurst, who plays Weil. “Somebody young who might not even know Carole King or know Carole King’s music, they know what it’s like to be born with a dream and wonder if they can go after that dream. Some people who are older and who resonate with the era and the music, it gives them an opportunity to relive memories.”
Whitehurst has spent a good deal of effort preparing for her role, researching Weil’s life, watching old interviews and looking at all the events occurring outside those depicted in the show’s script, to allow Weil’s entire existence to inform her performance. The result? Whitehurst says the experience playing Weil has been “nothing but a joy.”
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“I feel like she has actually taught me more about myself and the strength and confidence with which I can approach my own work. I think that’s one of my favorite things about her,” Whitehurst said. “She never thought about the fact that she’s a woman and what that may be like in her line of business. Granted, culturally at the time, it was more accepted that a woman would be a lyricists. She was such a go-getter and wouldn’t take no for an answer, but managed to do that with sophistication and charm. I just think she’s a great example, so I’ve had a blast putting her on as a person and learning from her.”
Whitehurst’s favorite moment for her character occurs in Act II, during the song “Walking in the Rain.”
“I feel that is a very pivotal moment for Cynthia. She was very, very motivated by love. Initially in (this) version, she’s motivated by the love of her music and that’s something that makes Cynthia unique. She wasn’t writing to be popular, she wasn’t writing to get famous, she was writing because she had to write because she loved it,” Whitehurst said. “She understood what that love was, but then when she came toe-to-toe with Barry Mann, as a professional relationship, it quickly became love and that was scary for her to process, because she didn’t know that both could exist at the same time — work and love in a relationship.”
With multiple strong female characters in the show, “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” fits right in with the Center for Performing Arts’ 2018–19 season theme, “I am Woman.”
“(The show) showcases the strength of women, the tenacity of women, the creativity of women, how hardworking they are,” Whitehurst said. “I think it’s a very triumphant story of the strengths of (Carole King) and everything that her legacy has left. ... Carole King is a regular person who did extraordinary things.”
Despite this, Whitehurst notes that the main takeaway from the show isn’t just a new appreciation for one woman’s legacy. The musical also encourages audience members to pursue their dreams with renewed vigor.
“What you feel called to do with your life, whether that be writing music, dancing, being a doctor, being a lawyer, whatever that is, let the love of that thing drive you and in following that path, you’re going to end up where you need to be. In that process, you’ll find out who you are,” she said. “I feel like that’s one of my favorite things about the way this story is depicted. Carole King didn’t have all the answers; all she knew was that she wanted to be a songwriter, so she took one step at a time and left the rest of it up to God. She just followed what she loved and watched everything come together. Even though things were tough, she triumphed at the end.”
If you go
What: “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Feb. 23 and 2 p.m. Feb. 23-24
Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park