Carole King’s life has been turned into Beautiful, a splashy new Broadway musical featuring the not-subtle subtitle “The Carole King Musical.” And here’s one person who has zero interest in seeing it: Carole King.
Sure, the Grammy-winning music icon has given the show her blessing, but she doesn’t have plans to watch it or take part in a photo op, like when Diana Ross came sweeping onstage during the opening night bows of Motown: The Musical to the surprise of her onstage alter ego Valisia LeKae.
It seems Beautiful, which tracks King’s relationship with ex-husband Gerry Goffin from teen wedding to fruitful song collaborations to sad divorce, hits too close to home for 71-year-old King. She attended a reading of the musical with her daughter Sherry Goffin Kondor, also her manager and one of the producers of Beautiful, but couldn’t sit still. “She saw half of it,” reveals librettist Douglas McGrath. “At the end of the first act, this terrible thing happens in her marriage. She said, ‘I already went through this. It’s very painful to live through again.’”
“She said, ‘Look, I can tell this is really good, but I can’t stay,’” remembered Kondor. “I was like, ‘Mom, you’re leaving?! What am I gonna tell people?’” Kondor added that her mother still has no plans to see the show, which recently started previews on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre: “Maybe one day she’ll call me up and say, ‘I’m going’ or maybe she’ll call and say, ‘I went!’ I’m really looking forward to that day.”
“They were married very young when she got pregnant,” adds McGrath. “They were 17 and 19 and that’s just too young. They had a lot of pressures on them so they didn’t stay together, but I really believe they never stopped loving each other. There’s a lot of complexity to their feelings: ‘I can’t be with you but I can’t give you up.’ ‘You’ve broken my heart but I still love you.’ ‘I don’t want to be married to you, but you’re still an integral part of my life.’ I wanted the musical to be infused with all of that.”
For Cynthia Weil, another legendary pop songwriter who is depicted in the show along with her collaborator husband Barry Mann, King’s decision to sit out the show is fine. “She feels she’s not ready to watch it,” she said. “And we support whatever she wants to do.”
“I totally get it,” adds Jessie Mueller, the Tony-nominated up-and-comer who plays King in the musical. “The show focuses on a lot of painful stuff in her life. We go through it eight times a week and it’s hard enough and she lived it. And she’s Carole King, you know? She can do whatever she wants to do. We’re just grateful that she’s letting us tell her story.”