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A ‘Beautiful’ retelling of Carole King’s story in EL

Joan Marcus
The cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Early on during Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, on tour at the Wharton Center this week, the 16 year old burgeoning songsmith is given some advice: “Girls don’t write music, they teach it.”

That harsh line is spoken by Suzanne Grodner, who portrays Genie Klein, Carole’s mother.
“Well, [Carole] really was one of the first women to break through that very male dominated industry. There were no female lyricists or composers back then and Don Kirshner was one of the pioneers with realizing that young kids are the  kids that the people that bring in to write the music because who better to write for kids than kids? So he gave Carole her first chance. He bought her first song when she was age 16. Yeah, she really broke through that ceiling and opened a lot of doors of women being able to be heard in that industry. The music is really incredible in this show and it really throws you right back into that time.”

One of the performers joining Grodner in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is Salisha Thomas as Lucille, Don Kirshner’s secretary. She also portrays Shirley of The Shirelles, as well, which means she sings the King co-penned classic Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? And one of the things that this period musical does well, since it spans Carole King’s career from the late 50s into the 70s is to fairly closely match the singing styles of the original artists. According to Thomas, a great deal of that credit goes to one man.

“So, Jason Howland, our musical director (he’s awesome, by the way), when we were sitting down and putting this show, the tour together, he said ‘I want the audience to feel like they did the first time these songs came out.’ So with that, there’s a little contemporary twist, but still not too much to where it’s so, like, so many runs or anything like that. But it does feel fresh and new and there are times where we have to straight-tone it, and there are times when it’s okay when we can use vibrato. But it sounds — he wanted to make sure that it’s still exciting. So when you hear it, you have that same sensation of ‘ I! Love! This! Song!’”

The heart of the musical Beautiful is the songs and experiences of Carole King, who wasn’t able to help launch this tour, but as Suzanne Grodner explains, there was this time in Boston…

“We opened on a Tuesday night. When we got done, they said ‘Everybody out of your wigs and costumes. Get down to the stage as soon as possible.’ So, that can mean a number of things. It could mean there was somebody in the audience; it could mean that they have an announcement with the tour; it could mean that they’re cancelling the tour; it could mean a number of things. So, we came down with trepidation and fear and excitement and when everyone got down there, they literally said ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Carole King.’ And she walked out and everybody started crying.” says Grodner.
To which Thomas confirms with a giddy “It was so freaking cool, man!”

Suzanne Grodner and Salisha Thomas, as well as the rest of the cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical are in residency this week at the Wharton Center in East Lansing. Tickets and more information are available at WhartonCenter.com

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