Feature photo: 1650 Broadway. (l to r) James Clow (“Don Kirshner”), Dylan S. Wallach (“Gerry Goffin”), Sarah Bockel (“Carole King”), Jacob Heimer (“Barry Mann”) and Alison Whitehurst (“Cynthia Weil”). Images by Joan Marcus.
Simply put, go see this musical. Beautiful, based on the life of singer-songwriter Carole King, is at the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music until January 20th. The show follows Carole’s incredible career, which began when she was a teenager in New York. Even if you don’t think you know much of Carole’s songbook, I bet you really do. Before Carole released her Grammy award-winning album Tapestry in 1971, she and partner Gerry Goffin wrote hits for The Drifters, Bobby Vee, Aretha Franklin, The Monkees, and so many others. Carole has written (or co-written) 118 of the Billboard hot 100 hits between 1955 and 1999. You’ve heard them all.
In the show, we follow the lives of Carole and her first husband, Gerry. We also meet their friends- the composing duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Real-life Barry and Cynthia are just as iconic, writing popular songs for artists like Dolly Parton, Tony Orlando, The Drifters, and The Animals. Barry Mann has over 600 songs in his catalog.
Actor Jacob Heimer, who plays Barry on this tour, talked to us about the songs featured in Beautiful, Carole’s friendship with Barry, and his experiences in the show.
Q: Barry Mann is a very successful songwriter. Many of his songs are featured in Beautiful. Tell me a bit about his relationship with Carole King and how it’s portrayed in the show.
A: Barry Mann and his writing partner Cynthia Weill were Carole’s closest friends and competitors. In Carole’s early songwriting years, she and her husband Gerry Goffin were turning out some of the most important records of the Brill Building era. Barry has described their friendship as vital because they were the only people who understood this crazy life of non-stop writing and trying to score a hit, so they could have the money to keep writing and surviving in New York. These two powerhouse songwriting couples would vacation together not only because they liked each other, but also because they didn’t want the other duo to be able to write any hits while they were away!
Q: How did you prepare for the role of Barry? Did you meet the real-life Barry? If so, did he offer any advice?
A: One of advantages of portraying Barry Mann is that the homework for his background is readily available in books like Always Magic in the Air and interviews of the dynamic duo themselves. I love being able to read stories about Barry’s early years and letting what others said about him influence my “take” on the character.
We have met! He’s been to the show a couple times since I joined the tour. It was surreal to meet the Mann himself. Not only because I’m playing him every night, but because I grew up with his tunes. My high school band and I did a cover of “I Love How You Love Me” (Paris Sisters), and all I wanted to do was ask him what it was like to work with Phil Spector (before we knew he was a sick man) on some of his most famous wall-of-sound productions, or what it’s like to be the creator of one of the most famous cartoon songs of all time (“Somewhere Out There”). He didn’t give me any advice, but meeting him was affirmation of his humor and heart.
Q: How are you, Jacob, similar to Barry? Are there any characteristics you both have?
A: Let me say at the outset that I am basing this answer on the play and not necessarily the real life Barry Mann, but – within the production Barry is full of neuroses that I relate to. It is a daily practice for me to see the larger picture and not get swallowed whole by large expectations and small details that can so often result in a defeated anxiety. Like Barry, my wife in real life is the person I look to to reel me in when I can’t see the big picture due to obsessing over unimportant details. Through the play we see his relationship make him better at his job and bring balance to his life. I can relate.
Q: Philadelphia is one of the many stops on this tour, with a lot left to go. How has it been performing all over with a touring cast, rather than being in one place off-Broadway?
A: I love seeing the country like this. What a joy to be able to bring this story and music to each town and also see parts of the US and Canada I’ve never explored. It’s like a handshake with each city – they educate us on their part of the world, and we give them our little show. The hardest part is being away from my wife and family and friends. I’ve finally found some balance in this, but that part of touring is never easy. Being on the road has taught me quite a lot.
Q: Barry and his wife Cynthia have written many hits for various artists. Do you have any favorites?
A: I know it’s obvious, but how amazing is the Righteous Brothers version of “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’”? It still kills me. Other favorites include “Bless You” (Tony Orlando), all of their songs for The Drifters (“On Broadway”, “I’ll Take You Home”), “I Love How You Love Me”, the Ronettes singing “Walking In the Rain”, “Kicks” (Paul Revere). Shall I go on? I mean, they wrote for the Walker Brothers! The Animals!
Q: And of course, what is your favorite Carole King song?
A: 1650/Aldon Building era: “He Hit Me” (super disturbing, but incredible), “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Shirelles). Tapestry era: “Child of Mine” and “It’s Too Late”
Q: Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing here in Philadelphia during your downtime?
A: Yes! I’m really looking forward to spending time with a close friend of mine who I don’t see enough, and exploring your vibrant historic town.
Beautiful features amazing performances from every single cast members. Sarah Bockel flawlessly channels Carole King (every song seemed better than the last, but the scene featuring “Natural Woman” was outstanding). The audience responds as if Carole actually were on stage. The cheers and claps after the character states she can be a songwriter on her own, do her own thing, and no man can stand in her way… goosebumps. We felt as though we were a part of Carole from the beginning, with all of her life story happening live in front of us for the first time.
Carole King’s story is a great one. Of course, a few minor life and career details have been altered and glorified for the sake of the show’s plot- I stayed up way too late last night going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole to fact check. But, what matters most in this show is all about Carole’s journey and her story of success. Her determination began as a young teenager and nothing at all stood in her way- being a young mother, being a part of an unfaithful marriage, the ever-changing popular music scene, the constant competition…nothing.
Go see Beautiful and be a part of Carole’s story. Tickets are available here.