Two years ago, the stars aligned for Chilina Kennedy. After cutting her teeth at the Shaw and Stratford festivals on this side of the border, the Canadian musical theatre star earned the role of a lifetime playing Carole King on Broadway in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. More importantly, she won the coveted part while nine months pregnant and received a blessing from King herself. This summer, Kennedy returns home from New York for a short run of the musical, from June 27 to August 20, by Mirvish Productions, at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre. Beautiful chronicles the early part of King’s life and career as a songwriter— when she penned songs with then-husband Gerry Goffin and worked alongside best friends and fellow writers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann—and leads up to the release of her groundbreaking 1971 album, Tapestry. The musical features hits like “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “I Feel the Earth Move”—songs that have imprinted themselves on pop culture.
It was an intimidating role for Kennedy, because she was not only taking over from Jessie Mueller, who nabbed a Tony for the role, but also portraying a living legend. “Everybody I know is a fan of Carole King,” she says. “[The musical is] representative of a time and music that people are so connected to. It was a lot to live up to.” Despite the challenge, it was a role Kennedy relished; she studied King by watching interviews and listening to her body of work. “You don’t want to do a Saturday Night Live impression of Carole King,” she says.
“It’s important to embody her spirit and her sound, because she does have a specific way of jumping into things, whether it’s a conversation or a song. She’s got so much chutzpah, love, guts and creativity, and it’s this thing that comes at you, and it’s beautiful.”
Kennedy has already had a few pinch-me moments, including when King attended a performance. (“She came over and gave me a big hug, and we had a really beautiful moment together. It was one of the best moments of my life.”) However, there’s still a lot more she wants to do, including roles she’d like to play (like Guinevere in Camelot) and a second album she hopes to record. In the meantime, she’s excited for Toronto audiences to enjoy the show she has been living and breathing for the past two years.