FIND­ING HER VOICE

Carole King was deeply torn about Beau­ti­ful, a musical based on her trou­bled first mar­riage. Writer Dou­glas McGrath tells Rose­mary Neill how the star was won over — even­tu­ally

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

Beau­ti­ful — part bi­og­ra­phy, part juke­box musical — opened in San Fran­cisco in 2013 be­fore trans­fer­ring to Broad­way the fol­low­ing year. The show has net­ted two Tony awards and a fur­ther five nom­i­na­tions. It also won a 2015 Grammy Award for best musical theatre al­bum, and two Laurence Olivier gongs.

Draw­ing on a song cat­a­logue of ex­tra­or­di­nary breadth and depth, the musical opened in Lon­don’s West End in 2015. De­spite mixed re­views, it is still play­ing to record-set­ting houses on Broad­way, and will tour the US and Bri­tain into 2018.

This year it’s Syd­ney’s turn to see this gen­tly funny yet deeply af­fect­ing char­ac­ter study of a public­ity-shy cre­ative ge­nius grow­ing into her own voice and iden­tity. The Broad­way pro­duc­tion (fea­tur­ing a lo­cal cast led by Help­mann award-win­ner Es­ther Han­naford) will open at the Lyric Theatre in Septem­ber: tick­ets went on sale last month, as King cel­e­brated her 75th birth­day. A Sony Pic­tures film ver­sion of Beau­ti­ful is in the works, with McGrath set to adapt his script for the big screen.

In fo­cus­ing on King’s dif­fi­cult first mar­riage — she and her song­writ­ing part­ner Gof­fin wed af­ter she fell preg­nant at 17 — McGrath had a clear nar­ra­tive pur­pose: the break­down of this re­la­tion­ship was the cat­a­lyst that drew the ap­pre­hen­sive per­former to­wards the spot­light. Al­though she com­posed chart-top­ping hits from the late 1950s, McGrath says “she didn’t re­ally be­come known to peo­ple un­til she be­gan per­form­ing her own work [in the 1970s]’’.

The once-re­jected sub­ur­ban mum be­came a su­per­star, one of the most in­flu­en­tial singer­song­writ­ers of her gen­er­a­tion. (Sig­nif­i­cantly, when Gof­fin died in 2014, his obit­u­ar­ies in­tro- King Musical, Beau­ti­ful: The Carole duced him as the “ex-hus­band of King’’, who has had four mar­riages).

King’s best-known solo al­bum, Ta­pes­try, was re­leased in 1971 and stayed in the US Bill­board charts for a re­mark­able six years. It sold 25 mil­lion copies, mak­ing it one of the big­gest-sell­ing al­bums of all time. She has been in­ducted into the Song­writ­ers Hall of Fame and the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of fame, hav­ing writ­ten or co-writ­ten more than 400 songs. One hun­dred of these were hit sin­gles, and many of them were recorded by the bright­est stars in pop and rock’s fir­ma­ment: the Bea­tles, Aretha Franklin, the Drifters, Amy Wine­house, James Tay­lor, Roberta Flack and Diana Ross.

Yet as McGrath’s script high­lights, King was not a born per­former. As a 20-some­thing rais­ing chil­dren in the New Jersey sub­urbs, she thought of her­self as a “square’’ in a decade (the 1960s) that seemed to be­long to the self-con­sciously hip. Dressed like a pre­ma­turely mid­dleaged li­brar­ian in Peter Pan col­lars and calflength skirts, the un­der-con­fi­dent Carole char­ac­ter says: “I’m just a nor­mal per­son. Who wants to hear a nor­mal per­son sing?’’

In fact, she was a pre­co­cious ta­lent — she sold her first No 1 hit, Will You Love Me To­mor­row, when she was 17. Barely out of school and work­ing along­side Gof­fin in a cramped of­fice cu­bi­cle in Mid­town Man­hat­tan, King com­posed scores of other Top 40 songs in­clud­ing One Fine Day, I’m Into Some­thing Good and Take Good Care of My Baby. At one point, the cou­ple talked their African-Amer­i­can babysit­ter, Lit­tle Eva, into singing their cre­ation, The Loco-Mo­tion, and it too be­came a chart­buster.

Carole King in 1971, top; Es­ther Han­naford plays King in the Syd­ney pro­duc­tion of

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