WASHINGTON — If you feel the earth moving under Rock Creek Parkway, have no fear.
It’s just folks clapping along to “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
The Tony-winning Broadway smash runs at the Kennedy Center now through Oct. 25.
The jukebox musical follows King’s rise to stardom after starting as a Brooklyn dreamer named Carol Klein (Abby Mueller), who formed a songwriting team with husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) to pen some of rock ‘n roll’s biggest hits. Along the way, they engage in friendly rivalry with Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) at a New York City studio at 1650 Broadway.
The title role is portrayed by Mueller, whose younger sister, Jessie, won a Tony for Best Actress when she originated the role on Broadway in 2014. But forget any unnecessary “sister act” comparisons. Abby absolutely makes the role her own, mashing piano keys with a booming voice that channels the best of King, whom she met during a “Today” show appearance back in August.
“You know what she said?” Mueller dishes to WTOP. “She’s all about the music and all about her band and about making everyone feel appreciated and giving everyone their spotlight. … ‘Band Love’ is what she called it. She was reminding us all to remember that, those moments in the show that we’ve tried to put in so you get that sense that she knows she’s part of the ensemble.”
In that light, WTOP caught up with all four ensemble leads: Mueller, Tobin, Gulsvig and Fankhauser.
“We love to joke around with each other. We get along famously,” Tobin says. “It’s really lovely when you do love the people you work with and come to work every day and it’s always a positive experience. We’re really, really lucky that the four of us get along.”
“The entire group is wonderful humans,” Mueller adds. “The four of us have a great time together.”
At times, audience members will feel a part of the group, singing along to songs they know by heart, while watching in amazement that just four individuals — best friends, no less — wrote them all.
“This music is so beloved by people and it’s woven into the fabric of people’s lives,” Mueller says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’ve heard ‘Natural Woman.’ Maybe you didn’t know Carole King wrote it, but that’s what’s so fun about this show is the audience discovering all of these moments right there with us, like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know they wrote that!'”
Their songwriting work is prolific. The Carole-Gerry team penned “Some Kind of Wonderful” for The Drifters, “Locomotion” for Little Eva, “It Might as Well Rain Until September” for Bobby Vee and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles, all while married after an unplanned pregnancy.
“A lot of people don’t know the story behind the music … and how (they) came to write all of these No. 1 hits, one after another after another,” Tobin says. “A lot of things happened in their lives. … They had to work through a lot of things and a lot of mistakes were made, but these were real people with real problems that everyday people see in their own marriages and their own lives.”
Meanwhile, the Cynthia-Barry team penned “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” for The Righteous Brothers, “On Broadway” for The Drifters, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” for The Animals and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” for The Crystals, all while Cynthia played hard to get from Barry.
“She plays hard to get for a while, but I think everyone knows that he’s got her and even she knows it, but you see her holding him off at arm’s length because she wants to be strong. It’s so real. Their dynamic and how their roles are written into the show are so relatable,” Gulsvig says.
“It’s cool to watch two people that are really invested in their career try and make love work,” Fankhauser says. “Finding love within the career is a challenge because it takes so much of yourself for any job. There’s not a lot of jobs where you can just leave it at work and go home and not think about it, especially being an artist. It’s 24-7. It never stops.”
The parallel backstage romances all build to King’s legendary breakthrough solo album, “Tapestry,” which won her four Grammys, including Album of the Year. You’d be hard pressed to find more hits: “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Natural Woman” and “Beautiful,” which Mueller belts in the rousing final number.
“I feel lucky to be able to convey that message at the end,” Mueller says. “It’s such a great reminder for me. I know for me personally to remember to ‘wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart’ … It just sums up her philosophy in a nutshell and it’s such a powerful way to end the show after having gone through what she went through.”
‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ runs through Oct. 25 at the Kennedy Center. Click here for tickets.
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