As a songwriter King charted well over 100 hits between the 1950’s and the turn of the millennium, making her one of the most successful American songwriters of the 20th-Century. The jukebox musical Beautiful maps King’s early career in the recording industry, and her rocky, but productive creative partnership with husband Gerry Goffin.
Intermission Impossible recently spoke with Julia Knitel, who plays King in the Broadway tour of Beautiful— docking soon at The Orpheum. Here’s what she had to say about the music, the person, and audiences who can’t seem to get enough.
Intermission Impossible: Were you a Carole King fan before you were cast?
Julia Knitel: I was, I was. I grew up in a house that had great respect for great music. I was bread on the likes of Carole King and Joni Mitchell and was really lucky in that sense, because, when I stepped into this show I had a pretty good background.
What’s your favorite song?
I always likes “Natural Woman.” It’s such a special song. That the song was written by a husband and wife is pretty incredible. But then you hear their story, and it’s not peachy. It’s just a beautiful piece of music.
And beautiful really does hone in on the early career, when she and Goffin are writing together.
She ages from 16 to 28 in the show.
Tell me a little bit about, well, the tapestry. How are the songs and biography woven together?
What’s special about the show vs a traditional jukebox musical is, we don’t create a story to shove songs into. We have an incredible story about a husband and wife and their very dear friend and writing partner Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. How their lives were changing, and in turn changing the scope of American music. And it’s really cool because you see a scene where they’re talking about having written a song, and they know it’s never going to be a hit, and they’re self-conscious of all of its flaws, then it gets done, and it’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and the Righteous Brothers are singing it. It’s just really cool to see where these people were when they were writing songs into the American songbook.
Are there songs you didn’t know so well that have grown on you since you’ve been with the show?
I have a real soft spot for “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It didn’t dawn on me for a couple of months, but this song is about the morning after from a woman’s perspective of sex. And it was a first in popular American music.
Maybe not a first, but…
Even Joni Mitchell said it changed her life when she was growing up in Canada. Goffin is coming home late from work. Only later do we discover his wandering eye and tendency toward infidelity. It makes you question who that song is about. Of course Carole is naive — “of course it’s about me, and my husband, and our love life?” It’s up to the audience to decide for themselves who he was writing about.
People obviously connect her to her hits. But she wrote so much for other people.
You sit back and you say, “No way!” “The Loco-motion?” “Up on the Roof?”
"He Hit Me" ...
All these songs that became hits for other people, long before Tapestry.
How long have you been with the company?
Two years. I spent a year-and-a-half in the Broadway company. Now six months out here.
Still love it? Is it still fresh?
Absolutely. I love it more every day. Best job in the world.
Who is your audience?
It runs the gamut. Obviously the baby boomers love it because it’s music they grew up with. Their children love it because it’s the music they grew up with second hand. My generation has looked to the past to music for inspiration. And I think more people than expected are in love with Carol king. Fathers sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents and the like, and it’s such a wide audience.