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'Beautiful The Carole King Musical' at Broadway Palm is more than just another jukebox musical

Isabella Andrews as Carole King in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Broadway Palm
Isabella Andrews as Carole King in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Beautiful is frequently labeled a jukebox musical because the show features more than a dozen songs from Carole King’s songwriting catalog.

Writer Douglas McGrath chose the songs he did not just because of their popularity.

Each serves as a milestone in King’s progression from a young girl who wrote for the Drifters, Shirelles, Righteous Brothers and Neil Sedaka to one of the most transformative pop-rock singer-songwriters of our times.

“The show itself really encapsulates her growth as a young girl who writes for others and she grows up and she begins to write for herself,” observes Amy Marie McCleary, who directed and choreographed the show for Broadway Palm.

“I think that is such a wonderful metaphor for women in general. We start out doing so much for other people, and there comes a point in our lives when we have to turn around and we have to do things for ourselves.”

Isabella Andrews as Carole King in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Andrews plays all the songs live throughout the show.
Broadway Palm
Isabella Andrews as Carole King in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Andrews plays all the songs live throughout the show.

Something of a prodigy, King started college when she was just 16. That’s where she met her writing partner and future husband, Gerry Goffin. King wrote the music and Goffin the lyrics for more than 60 songs, including “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof” and “Locomotion.”

What emerges from the songs and scenes that chronicle this period in King’s life was just how much she drew her self-image and self-worth from her place as Goffin’s writing partner and wife.

“For that time period, too, a lot of women, that was their goal,” McCleary notes. “It’s in the script. She talks about ‘oh, marriage, that’s the best part of life.’ That is their end goal when you were growing up in the 1950s, is your end goal was to get married.”

While King was all in, Goffin was ambivalent about married life. Gerry also suffered from mental illness, and as the pressure mounted for him and Carole to produce one #1 hit after another, he sought validation in the arms of several of the recording artists for whom they wrote.

Cameron Nies (left) as Barry Mann and Olivia Ursa (right) as Cynthia Weil in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Broadway Palm
Cameron Nies (left) as Barry Mann and Olivia Ursa (right) as Cynthia Weil in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Ultimately, King concluded that she and their two daughters deserved more, and she ended the marriage and their songwriting partnership.

“She realizes that she is enabling him by staying with him,” McCleary sagely remarks. “Because she’s trying so hard to make everything work, and it’s only by letting him go that he’s able to find help on his own.”

The split forced King to re-invent herself. In a pivotal scene, her mom reminds her that she doesn’t need Gerry to write great music.

Not long after, King also came to the realization that she should be the one to sing the new songs she was writing.

Carole suffered from stage freight and low self-esteem. Fortunately, her songwriting friends, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, encouraged her to sing one of her new songs impromptu in a little night club one night, leading to her break-through performance of “It’s Too Late.”

It is King’s highly introspective, self-deprecating character arc that makes Beautiful: The Carole King Musical great theater. But the Broadway Palm production is special for another reason. Isabella Andrews, who plays lead, also plays piano live throughout the show.

Isabella Andrews as Carole King in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Broadway Palm
Isabella Andrews as Carole King in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

McCleary actually cast for an actor who could play the piano. Andrews fit the bill.

After seeing Beautiful on stage in 2014, she just knew she had to play the part of Carole King. To be ready in case she ever got the chance, Andrews began rehearsing the songs in the show and has now been playing them for more than a decade.

“She posted that she was going to be doing Beautiful and we had just worked together at Timberlake Playhouse over the summer,” recounts Andrews. “I saw her post, and I was like, ‘Come on! Please!’ So then I sent in everything.”

Playing the piano live throughout the show informs and enhances Andrews’ performance in both subtle and profound ways.

“I’m able to emote so much better when I play and sing because I can just like move with the music, and you can see when I’m on stage, I move my body to the music and that’s what Carole did. And I think it’s very informative of the kind of pianist that she was, the kind of musician that she was.”

Audiences will find Andrews performance - and the entire musical -beautiful.

Beautiful is on stage at Broadway Palm through April 6, 2024.

Read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida. Visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Script and audio are engineered and produced by WGCU's Tara Calligan.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.

Isabella Andrews as Carole King (right) and Megan Opalinski (left) as Carole's mom, Genie Klein in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Broadway Palm
Isabella Andrews as Carole King (right) and Megan Opalinski (left) as Carole's mom, Genie Klein in Broadway Palm's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.


· Carole King was twice inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – for singing and for songwriting.

· At 16, King went to work for Aldon Records as a songwriter under the management of Don Kirshner in the Brill Building in midtown Manhattan, although much of the actual work was done at 1650 Broadway. During the ‘50s and ‘60s Kirshner’s Brill Building songwriters churned out hundreds of pop chart hits for, among

others, The Righteous Brothers, the Ronettes, Shirelles, the Drifters, the Monkees and the Animals.

· The musical is based on a book that was originally intended to give equal time to King and Goffin’s Aldon Records songwriting competitors Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

· “The four of us became close friends — we went to dinner, movies, theater, or we just hung out,” King would later write. “We’d laugh about the silliest things, and we’d call each other by our first syllable. I was Ca, my husband was Ger, and they were Cyn and Ba.”

· Concurrently, King reports, there was fierce competition between the two couples to be the team that got the follow-up for an artist with a No. 1 hit.

· “Here’s how it worked,” King related. “Donnie Kirshner had these cubicles, each with a piano and a bench, a chair for the lyricist, a few pens, a legal pad and an ashtray.” So, when Mann and Weil and Goffin and King were writing in adjacent cubicles, when one couple stopped playing, they could hear what the other was writing. “And we’d look at each other,” King said, “and say, ‘Oh my God, we have to do better.’ Later, we learned that Barry and Cynthia did the same.”

· Although fierce, the competition was friendly and both couples drew support and encouragement from each other. The results were astonishing. King and Goffin’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the Shirelles in 1961. Weil and Mann countered with “Uptown,” which reached #13 on the charts. Then King and Goffen wrote “Up on the Roof,” which the Drifters took to #5, which Weil and Mann countered

with “On Broadway,” which the Drifters took to #9. King and Goffen came back with “Oh No, Not My Baby,” which Weil and Mann topped with their own No. 1 hit, “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers.

· “One of my favorite numbers in the show is the medley of “1650 Broadway” because it really encompasses how many people were working in this building and how many people were listening to each other’s work from the wall, and stealing ideas from each other,” comments Isabella Andrews. “It wasn’t a sense of mean competition. It was a sense of collaborative competition. They’re all working towards the same thing. They all want a #1 hit, but they all have different styles, and that’s why I love that medley so much. It just blends everything together and, also, it’s not a good musical unless you’ve got people vying for the same thing.”

· “It’s not just competition,” McCleary suggests. “They feed each other, and so much of this show is about surrounding yourself with the right group of people. Right? And that’s what You’ve Got a Friend means to me. You’re surrounding yourself with people who feed your art and who are going to give you the tools necessary to grow as an artist. So she finds that in Don Kirshner and she finds that in Barry and Cynthia, because they are nothing if not encouraging her growth, and yes, there is this little competition between them, but it is always done in such a friendly and celebratory manner. And I think without Barry and Cynthia, I don’t think Carole and Gerry would have written such great songs, and vice versa.”

· “It’s funny that you say,” Andrews breaks in. “I’ve only started doing this in the last week of shows, but when I play and sing ‘Will

You Still Love Me Tomorrow,’ which was Carole and Gerry’s first #1 hit, Cynthia and Barry are in the room watching … and every so often I glance over at them and just give them a little bit of a wink and a smile, being like ‘Look what we did. I’m sure yours is just as good, but look what we did.’”

· Just how close did Carole King and Cynthia Weil become? “Cynthia loved me so much that she came to visit me in a log cabin in the Idaho backcountry with no running water, no electricity, and no dust ruffle on the bed,” wrote King following Weil’s death on June 1, 2023 at the age of 82.

· Director/choreographer Amy Marie McCleary says the reason Carole King’s songs are so popular, especially with women, is because “she writes from the heart, she’s honest, and she’s open with her lyrics and melodies.”

· But is the scene work that writer Douglas McGrath wove into the fabric of the musical that first drew McCleary to the show. “For a show that is about a songwriter, there are wonderful scenes that are multiple pages long where you really get to know these characters. That really struck me because a lot of shows, like Momma Mia for example, the scenes are very short and quick and it’s really about getting from one song to the next. In Beautiful, they really draw out the character arc. You really see her evolution as a character. You see her relationship with her first husband, her relationship with Barry and Cynthia.”

· Isabella Andrews’ window into Beautiful came through Jessie Mueller, who played the part of Carole King on Broadway. “I grew up watching her on stage because she’s from Chicago. So we got tickets to go see the show and I just remember thinking this is the

perfect role that captures all of my skill set because I’ve played piano since I was six years old, and even though she didn’t actually play the piano in the show, spoiler, in the original Broadway production, but I just wanted to be a part of it because I identified so much with her coming into her own, coming into her sense of self-identity in going from somebody who wrote for other people to then go to someone who wrote for herself and made all of these decisions for herself. It was very empowering to see that and it was something I couldn’t help but want to be a part of.”

· To prepare for the role, Andrews read King’s book, Natural Woman, studied performance video and watched a feature-length documentary, Home Again: Carole King Live in Central Park, which presents King’s triumphant May 26, 1973 homecoming concert on The Great Lawn of New York City’s Central Park before an estimated audience of 100,000.

· King’s life experiences resonated with Andrews for reasons other than their mutual love of music and the piano. “I’ve had experiences in my life of feeling lost and feeling where I can’t figure out how to find my identity because I put so much of my identity into another person, so that’s something I really relate to Carole about, and that’s why I wanted to do this show, part of the reason I wanted to do this show so bad, to kind of reclaim that for myself.”

· One of Andrews’ favorite scenes in the show comes right after she ends things with her husband and “her mother says ‘You wrote all of this stuff without Gerry. You produced your first song without

Gerry,’ and the subtext there is ‘You can do it again, without Gerry.’ And she does.”

· Andrews has many favorites among the Carole King songs that Douglas McGrath included in the musical, but “It’s Too Late” is right at the top. “It’s one of the songs that I enjoy playing the most … because the lyrics are so good and, not to be too show-offy, but it showcases the best parts of my voice. But it’s also the huge turning point of realizing even though you’re performing for a room full of people who could all share a cab because there’s so few of them, that’s sometimes enough. One of my favorite lines in all of musical theatre is ‘I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.’ So I always attribute that line to that scene.”

· In addition to Isabella, Cameron Nies, who plays Barry Mann, plays piano and guitar live on stage.

· McCleary gives props to both her Musical Director and Orchestra Conductor, Loren Strickland and Sound Designer, Abbey Dilliard for finding a way to enable Andrews and Nies to communicate with the orchestra from the stage so that the performers and the orchestra are always in rhythm with each other.

· For both Andrews and McCleary, the show’s title song, “Beautiful,” epitomizes the heart and soul of the musical. “When I graduated college, I wrote on my cap ‘You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face, and show the world all of the love in your heart.’ If I could get that tattooed on my body someplace, I would probably do that but I just think that that encompasses everything of what her journey says. That’s my favorite song.”

· “Throughout the play, [Carole] talks about her physical beauty and the fact that she feels that she lacks it,” adds McCleary. “So the fact that we end the show with that song and she sees the beauty in herself finally, I think is so powerful.