Producer Mike Bosner recently found a paper copy of the first draft of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” buried in a box in his New York City apartment.
“It was the first draft of this show with all my Post-it notes and little stars like, ‘Oh my god this is terrible,’ ‘This is special,’ ‘Keep this, this,’ ‘We need more of this, less of this,’ ” he recalled. “It was wild.” That draft was written more than seven years ago.
Carole King has made an appearance in the lives of most people. Her songs are just as much a part of the fabric of American music as “Proud Mary” or “Barbara Ann.” Many a music fan has tried to figure out how to actually do “The Locomotion” or been empowered by the love bursting from “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” We know the songs, but who was the woman behind them?
That’s the story “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” has been telling on stage for nearly three years.
The Broadway run of “Beautiful” just celebrated its 1000th performance at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, has a company in London’s West End and has been touring the United States since September 2015. The biographical Broadway musical was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2014, winning two of them. But “Beautiful” made its official stage debut right here in the Bay Area at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre.
Now, years after the explosive success of the show, “Beautiful” is returning to the city in which it debuted, opening Aug. 9 at the SHN Orpheum Theatre.
In an interview with The Daily Californian, director Marc Bruni and producers Paul Blake and Mike Bosner discussed the show’s return to San Francisco and what it took to effectively tell the lesser known chapter of Carole King’s story night after night.
“I had no idea,” Bruni said of the years King spent writing songs for chart-topping 1960s artists such as the Drifters and the Shirelles. “Like so many of our audience members, I assumed that she was a singer-songwriter in the kind of Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell way.”
Before she released her landmark album Tapestry in 1971, King was solely a songwriter who, along with her then-husband Gerry Goffin and friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Wiel, helped compose the 1960s American songbook.
The thrill of the show comes from the discovery of King’s early stages as an artist, and at the Curran Theatre, it was clear that audiences wanted to know more about the woman who penned classics such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “I Feel the Earth Move.”
It was an early cold reading of the musical that made the creators sure that “Beautiful” would resonate with audiences, despite its shaky beginnings. Producer Paul Blake, who also produced the successful stage adaptation of “White Christmas,” said, “The script was a mess. The structure was all over the place, but the characters that (bookwriter Douglas McGrath) was coming up with were very touching, and we knew we were onto something very special.”
It’s a show brimming with elaborate 1960s dress and the familiarly dazzling songs from the period’s song catalogue. Bosner described it as “the very honest story of friendship and love and humanity around these songwriters who were changing the face of music without knowing they were doing it.” “Beautiful” doesn’t treat singer-songwriter Carole King as a deity and refuses to portray her life as an overly polished tale of success.
Blake attributes much of the show’s authenticity to the work of McGrath: “Anyone that came in and treated it like ‘the great Carole King,’ we didn’t want to work with.” McGrath opted to write as human and honest a musical as possible and got the job.
McGrath, equipped with the findings from his extensive research, wrote upward of 68 drafts to eventually create the “Beautiful” that is now being performed on stages across the country and in London.
This effort to put on a true-to-life show did not initially strike a chord with Carole King herself, however. As Bruni recalled, the singer-songwriter left during intermission at an early reading of the musical, feeling that a reenactment of her own life was too personal to watch. But a few months after the show opened on Broadway, King attended a performance and grew to love their honest, joyous creation.
Since then, she’s seen all of the companies and recently surprised the current Broadway cast at their 1000th performance on the Great White Way before accepting a mayoral proclamation declaring June 15, 2016 “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” Day in New York City.
“Beautiful” has gone from that first draft Bosner found in a box of memorabilia to the signature Broadway sensation that both audiences and its subject herself have grown to love. And now, with its return to San Francisco, the musical’s growth since its humble beginnings will be more evident than ever. “We’re excited to bring you the new and improved version of this show back to where it all started,” said Bosner.
We can’t wait, either.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” opens at the SHN Orpheum Theatre on Aug. 9. The production will run through Sept. 18.