by Dimitri Moise
The Bitter End, circa 1970. It’s been years since she has played or sung in front of anyone, but she steps up to the piano to introduce a new song on which she has been working. When the opening chords of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” are introduced, the crowd begins to buzz with excitement. Without fail, this excitement is typically followed by applause from the audience, night after night. It may seem like just another scene in Act 2, but in this moment we are transported. This moment transcends time and space.
For some, this song may bring them back to the first time they listened to the Grammy-award winning album, “Tapestry.” For others, it may remind them of a difficult period in their lives when this song was able to help them get through. For me, it brings me back to my middle school self, a young boy struggling with his identity and his sexuality. This song allowed me to take a look at the antagonists in the story of my life and brush them off. In retrospect, I realized what this meant: if they couldn’t accept me then, it was too late for them to try and make amends now. Forgiving, but no way of forgetting.
For Carole, this song brilliantly represented a time in her life when she stood at a crossroads. She was forced to make a difficult decision and sever ties with the person who she felt completed her. Made her feel whole. She was trying to pick up the pieces of her life, and from there, “It’s Too Late,” one of the many hits of “Tapestry” was born. The introduction of this song in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is just one of the many moments that represents the strong, but optimistic and loving woman in King. This show is incredibly important for our time, depicting a real woman overcoming tough moments and big obstacles in her life in order to succeed in a world that was not built for her to do so.
It should be a little unbelievable to see how the life story of Carole King could be so relevant in 2018, but history does repeat itself, doesn’t it? When I look at our social and political climate as a country, at the administration no one expected to hold power, and at the incredible grassroots movements like the Women’s March and #BlackLivesMatter, it’s hard for me not to see how important a show like Beautiful is right now -- on Broadway and especially on tour. The show opens with a key phrase from Carole: “Sometimes life goes the way you want, and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, you find something… beautiful.” A 16-year-old King in the late 1950s goes against her mother’s wishes of becoming a teacher and follows her dream of being a songwriter. When she arrives at the now-famed Brill building, she is met with disdain as she attempts to prove her worth as a person who can hold her own in an industry where women were not known to be songwriters. Not only is she able to make her mark in the building as a teenage songwriter, but she is also able to become the Carole King superstar that we know and love today.
In my conversations with some of the extraordinary women in our show, one moment that stood out came from Sarah Bockel, who plays Carole on the road: “Everyday Beautiful serves to remind me that beauty, identity, and confidence should and can come from within. As women or even as people, it can be easy to base our worth or identity in others: our spouse, our family, our jobs. Beauty especially is a quality easily mistaken for coming from others, instead of a feeling. With all that life throws at us it’s important to realize that the only constant is ourselves.”
I went through many incredibly dark moments in my life, growing up as a gay black man desperate to fit in with and be accepted by my peers. As an adult, I’ve come to learn and love every facet of my being, despite the negativity and hate I’ve faced in my life. A similar lesson is taught not only through the story of Carole, as she finds that strength within herself, but also through some of the other women in the show, particularly Cynthia Weil, who carries that strength and assuredness in herself from the moment we meet her. She is presented as a woman unwilling to sacrifice her career for any man. She is disinterested in bending to society’s need for a woman to be wed, and makes those feelings clearly known.
Kaylee Harwood, Beautiful swing, describes her experiences having to go on for these women as polar opposites. As a swing, Harwood understudies all of the female roles in the show including Carole, Cynthia, and Genie (Carole's strong-willed mother). “To go on stage as Carole and truly desire that quiet life in the suburbs with Gerry and her kids and the white picket fence, you know, there’s nothing trite about it or anything. It’s kind of an enviable optimism she has, clinging onto that dream, while still making cutting edge songs. And then you play Cynthia, who’s career-focused and doesn’t want a man to distract from that drive that she has -- and then even Carole’s mother, who has another perspective, who’s been burned, who has a jadedness about romance and is more practical - these women all offer such unique perspectives.”
On the road, these female perspectives seem to play well with most audiences. Despite the divisiveness that is ever present in America today, one thing seems to bring these audiences together, even with the very feminist themes in Beautiful. Life can send all of us down unexpected paths, but we must continue to grow and overcome. This is a central theme of the show. I know I’ve faced times in my life that forced me to grow, overcome, and move forward. So have many others. It’s where we are as a country today. It may feel scary. It may seem impossible. But together, we can build that strength to grow together, overcome together, and move forward together.
Bockel, in particular, hopes to bring this message out in her performance as Carole every night: “I am so proud as an actor and feminist to bring this story across the country. I want young girls to be inspired to dream big. I want to reach women and tell them that we are enough and we can have faith in ourselves.”