“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” opened Sunday night on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theater and as expected, Carole King, who lives in L.A., didn’t show.
But other real-life characters portrayed in the jukebox musical – Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Gerry Goffin – turned up and even did the red carpet.
You might also have heard there was a shindig going on in Hollywood at the same time and that Woody Allen was honored with a lifetime achievement award – minus Allen. People speculated he was probably at a ball game instead. So where was Woody?
It turns out Allen was at “Beautiful,” and that he and wife Soon Yi slipped into a side door, and sat in their orchestra seat in row L or M. (Jerry Seinfeld was also there although neither he or Allen made it to the after party.)
Woody and Douglas McGath, who wrote the book for “Beautiful,” are pals. The two co-wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for “Bullets Over Broadway,” which is heading to Broadway as a new musical by Allen. Susan Stroman will direct.
McGrath told me his pal came to the Broadway opening of his play as “the most extraordinary act of support, and the only reason I say it’s extraordinary is he doesn’t really like to go to openings and he doesn’t really. And if you’ve seen his movies you know what his taste in music is, and it’s not this, yet I think he had a wonderful time.”
So Woody skipped out on the Golden Globes for your Broadway opening?
“Yes, I think he likes coming tonight for that very reason,” McGrath laughed. “He can say I had to go to my friend’s opening.”
Then we chatted about the book for “Beautiful,” which McGrath said he almost turned down writing.
“I didn’t want to take the job at first because I thought four living people I’m going to write something about? Forget it. Because they’re all going to be like, ‘no, no, no, my mother wore pants, not slacks. All these things that you’re like, ‘what? That means nothing.’ But they were all very supportive. They gave me all the information and then they would see stuff, and they would give notes but it was never dramatic or like, you have to cut this. It was more like sometimes we did this more than this. They just gave me stuff to help.”
Jake Epstein plays Gerry Goffin, a gifted man who is bipolar and a womanizer, and manages to make him likable. McGrath told me Goffin didn’t ask him to tone down his character flaws.
“This is what was so interesting to me about Gerry,” McGrath said “He didn’t keep anything from me. He said, ‘Yeah, I did that.’ The original sin for them was that they got married too young, when she got pregnant,” he said. “He had this one impulse to pull him away toward all these cute girls whom he’d been used to flirting with and dating and fooling around with and the other, which was that he loved Carole and didn’t want to hurt her. I never see him as a villain. I saw him as a guy who had a bad thing and he tried to make the best of it and it just got worse.”
Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, played by Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector, who went on to write “On Broadway,” “Uptown,” the Animals “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” among other hits, seem too good to be true but in person they’re like the characters on stage. I asked them for the secret of their happy 30-year marriage.
“We have a deep love and friendship,” Mann explained. They have one daughter, Jenn Berman, who has a radio show on Sirius and a television show on VH1. “She’s a pretty spectacular woman,” Weill said. “She’s our greatest collaboration.”
At the moment they’re not writing music. Weil said her husband was writing his memoirs and she was working on a young adult mystery.
“And maybe we’ll work on something together soon cause I miss not working with you,” Weil told her husband. “We haven’t done it for while, writing music, but we will.”
I asked Mann if he was as much as a hypochondriac as he’s depicted in the play?
“Yes, that’s the truth,” Man said. “When I first saw how much of a hypochondriac I am in the show I got a little pissed off and then I realized it was right.” This was a detail that came up in interviews McGrath did with them.
Then Mann pointed to a white-haired man holding a drink. “Our doctor’s here tonight. He’s over there.”
It turns out not all of the stars of “Beautiful” knew Woody Allen was in the audience.
“Did he like it?” Jake Epstein asked me. “Woody Allen in the audience? I didn’t know before the show, thank god!
Jeb Brown, who plays music publisher Don Kirshner told me, “I must say that crept into my consciousness now and again on the stage.”
“Oh, so exciting! My son told me Woody was there,” said Liz Larsen, who plays Carole King’s mother.
Jessie Mueller, who’s star turn as Carole King is a career game changer for the 30 year old actress, told me she also knew Woody was in the theater.
She wore a short, silver sequined dress by Aidan Mattox.
“It’s not so natural woman any more,” she joked about the shimmery dress, referencing one of King’s most famous songs.
I asked her how she found her way into the role of Carole King, someone whose music she was too young too know.
“Slowly and with a lot of help. I still have to figure it out and invest in it every night,” she said. “The first time I met with the musical director, Jason Howland, I sort of came in the room and I thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’ And even taking it on and saying, ‘Yes, I want to play this role because I found her so interesting. I didn’t know how I was going to do.” She added, “I didn’t do it alone by any means. What I was doing was shaped by what was happening around me.”
Muller told me she also did her homework. “Lots of research, lots of listening, lots of watching footage of her singing, to watch the mannerisms and the way she connects with the piano.” She also had to adapt her voice. “We just have different voices, we have different timbres, we have different ranges, but I love stuff like that. I love exploring different parts of my voice. I used to mimic people all the time when I was kid, so it was fun for me, I didn’t want it to be a mimicry but I wanted to touch on certain things, so you felt you had something of the best of her.”
As for the toughest thing about playing King, she told me, “It changes from night to night. Sometimes it’s getting to the heart of the pain because there was a lot of pain in that journey that this show captures, but it’s also sometimes also it’s just trying to capture her joy and her openness because through all the hardships she stayed so open. I think there’s a lot to learn from that.”