Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the story of the journey of Jewish teen songwriter Carole King on the road to becoming the first female singer/songwriter to achieve prominence, is running now through Sept. 3 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.
Actor Ben Fankhauser is the only Jewish cast member, although all the main characters portrayed on stage – King, her husband Gerry Goffin, her best friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and music promoter Don Kirshner – are Jewish.
“I enjoy being a Jew, playing a Jew,” said the 27-year-old Fankhauser, who portrays Mann in his 20s.
“I portray Barry as a mensch, who falls in love with Cynthia Weil and create an endearing, talented songwriting team. He is also a bit of a hypochondriac, bringing light moments and wonderful songs to the story of Carole King.”
Fankhauser shines best on stage when he’s singing hit songs, such as You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and We Got To Get Out Of This Place, which were written by Mann and Weil for The Righteous Brothers and other prominent singers in the 1950s and ’60s.
The happy relationship between Mann and Weil (played by Erika Olson), who have been married since 1961, is contrasted by the rocky marriage of King (played by Chilina Kennedy of Toronto) and Goffin (played by Liam Tobin), who King married when she became pregnant at age 17.
Beautiful conveys the breakup of the marriage between Goffin and King through Goffin’s many affairs and use of drugs, but is also inspiring as King gains confidence creating her hit songs, such as It’s Too Late, Will You Love Me Tomorrow and You’ve Got A Friend.
King honed her skills playing piano at age four and, despite being pressured by her mother Genie Klein (played by Suzanne Grodner) to be a teacher and forget about songwriting, she is seen pitching her music to Kirshner (played by Curt Bouril) at age 15.
“It is Carole’s ambition and that of Barry and Cynthia that is the central theme in Beautiful. The songwriters are all hungry for success, but despite the competition between them, they all become close and care for each other,” said Fankhauser.
Raised in Cleveland, Fankhauser knew his career would be in the musical theatre after performing in high school. His first big break after college was being in the national tour of the musical Spring Awakening, followed by his starring role as Davey in the Broadway production of Newsies.
His maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors from Poland, who inspired Fankhauser to visit Israel through Birthright in 2011.
“I loved going to Israel. I had a sense of belonging and felt ‘I’m coming home’ by being there and ‘everyone is like me,’ so I definitely want to go back to Israel again,” said Fankhauser.
Born as Carol Klein in Brooklyn, King, now 75, was married four times and was physically abused by her third husband, according to her autobiography, A Natural Woman: A Memoir.
Billboard named King the most successful female singer/songwriter ever, for her 118 hit songs recorded from 1955 to 1999. Among her many honours, King won four Grammy Awards, was inducted into both the Rock And Roll and Songwriter halls of fame, was a 2015 Kennedy Center honouree and is the first woman to receive the Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize for popular song.
King is also proud of her Jewish roots and recorded a Chanukah song on her 2011 album, A Holiday Carole, with her daughter, Louise Goffin, and her grandson.
“I recorded the traditional Chanukah prayer with its melody. Louise arranged the prayer in song form. She and her son sang it along with me. The last vocal we hear on track is then eight-year-old Hayden singing ‘L’hadik neir shei Chanukah’,” wrote King in her autobiography. “Tears come to my eyes every time I hear the prayer of our ancestors marching forward to future generations through my grandson, my daughter and me.”
The show will be playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St. in Toronto. For tickets, call 416-872-1212, or go to mirvish.com.