Earlier this summer, I was fortunate to spend an evening taking in the sights and remarkable sounds of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre.
I left Beautiful with a newfound appreciation for a musical legend…but also with a warmth in my soul.
If you’re anything like me, and the darkness around us is leaving you craving some much-needed soul-warming…I hope you enjoy this piece that highlights some of my favourite moments. Moments when I felt the earth move…or perhaps those were tears flowing!
If you haven’t seen it, plan to, and want to be surprised, don’t read on!
If you have seen it and adored it as much as I did, please enjoy!
Born Carol Joan Klein in 1942 into a Jewish family, Carole’s extraordinary talent and her famous songs were the focal points of the show. (For a good part of the two hours, I was truly in Dirty Dancing heaven!) Also centre stage was the story of Carole’s success and rise to stardom, starting in her teens, and her trying relationship with then-husband Gerry Goffin.
But between the main storylines were three tender themes that stole my heart…
The Warm Friendships
Throughout Beautiful, we witnessed a touching and charming friendship blossom between couples who were highly competitive yet deeply devoted friends – Carole King and Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
As much as each pair was aiming to surpass the other on the Billboard charts by writing the best songs and lyrics, they were also each other’s number one cheerleaders. Their unwavering loyalty and love were something special. They developed an incredibly close bond and both Cynthia and Barry were Carole’s rocks when her marriage was falling apart.
When Carole performed “You’ve got a friend” at the piano in her office, just before leaving for California, with Cynthia and Barry swaying and singing with her…um…those tears I mentioned…yah.
Carole and Gerry’s marriage wasn’t always Some Kind of Wonderful, and the couple divorced in 1969 after a decade of marriage. But when Gerry arrived at Carnegie Hall before Carole’s first performance in front of an audience, you could still see the spark of their special friendship, despite the mistakes Gerry made and their bittersweet past.
Finally, Carole’s spirited and loyal manager and music producer, Don Kirshner, supported Carole through it all. He encouraged her when she announced her plans to record and perform a group of deeply personal songs she wrote – instead of finding another performer or group to sing her words. Don and Carole had each other’s backs. Their relationship was beyond business – it was a unique and trusting friendship.
A Devoted (and Progressive!) Mother
While not a central storyline in Beautiful, a little research reveals that Carole’s mother Eugenia Gingold, was not only Carole’s most adoring fan, but she was also her first music teacher and later, her acting coach.
After her split with Gerry, Carole was a single mom in the 60s, raising two young children. Naturally, she felt deflated, nervous, and sad. While I don’t recall her mother’s exact words, she essentially declared this:
You had the guts and gumption to pursue your dreams as a young teenager determined to make it as a songwriter – don’t you dare stop dreaming…writing…or singing, just because life and love had taken an unexpected detour!
Especially for the times, Eugenia was a truly modern women and raised Carole to be a proud, accomplished, and independent woman.
Oh, and if one fine day you remember exactly what she did say, please let me know!
Carole’s Inner Beauty
If her remarkable talent wasn’t enough, Carole was strong, humble, and forgiving.
She endured some incredibly challenging times with Goffin who was unfaithful, and according to an L.A. Times piece written at the time of his death in June 2014, “struggled with mental health problems exacerbated by his use of hallucinogenic drugs.”
Despite their challenges, Carole tried to make her marriage work. She loved Gerry and was a committed wife. She believed in love. She believed in them.
Ultimately, her loyalty wasn’t enough. But when Carole belted out A Natural Woman, there was no doubt how strong she was. Her mother was bang on (as mothers usually are!) Carole was a trailblazer. She was a gifted composer and songwriter. And absolutely nothing could stop her.
Thank you to the writers, producers, and the creative team behind Beautiful.
It truly was.
And yes Carole (played by the incredibly talented Chilina Kennedy – just WOW!), I will still love you – and all you gave to this world – tomorrow.