Singer songwriter Carole King’s life is told in song in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Photo courtesy of Portland Ovations

Carole King’s life story has been playing for decades.

She wrote or co-wrote more than 110 songs that made the Billboard pop charts in the 1960s and ’70s, providing a soundtrack for millions of lives, as well as her own. She began her hit-making as a teenager in the early 1960s, writing with husband Gerry Goffin. As an independent solo artist more than a decade later, her “Tapestry” album was No. 1 on the charts for 15 weeks.

So when “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” comes to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Friday and Saturday, many people will know all the songs. But the musical offers insights into King’s life and career beyond the lyrics of her songs.

“It’s challenging for us as actors because there are some darker moments, and it’s more emotional than a lot of musicals,” said James D. Gish, who plays Goffin.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” opened on Broadway in 2013. The touring version of the show, which was cast earlier this year, is being brought to town by Portland Ovations for three shows: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Unlike some musicals, the characters don’t sing their feelings, Gish said. Emotional moments in King’s life, such as when she falls in love with Goffin or Goffin’s struggles with mental illness, are dealt with in the dialogue. The songs are the products of King and Goffin’s life work, and are showcased as such.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” will play Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Friday and Saturday. Photo courtesy of Portland Ovations

There are some big singing and dancing numbers as well, with actors portraying the Drifters and the Shirelles, two of the 1960s groups that had hits with King and Goffin’s songs. A performance of “On Broadway,” a Drifters’ hit, is one of the show’s highlights, Gish said. That song was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, a songwriting couple and friends of King and Goffin, who are featured in the musical.

Other song highlights for Gish are “The Locomotion,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which was a hit for Aretha Franklin.  The show features some two dozen recognizable pop hits, including “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day,” “Up on the Roof,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”

Gish said some of the more challenging moments, for him, are playing a character with “debilitating” mental illness, at a time when mental illness was not largely discussed and treatments were still being developed. Without giving too much away, Gish said the production includes a scene that features Goffin suffering a breakdown and being hospitalized.

Gish, 23, was born well after King and Goffin’s hit-making days. But because their music is still played on oldies radio stations and because his parents were fans, Gish grew up near Phoenix, Arizona, listening to Goffin and King’s music.

“They transformed the way we look at and listen to pop music, talking elements from classical and so many different genres,” he said.

Getting a lead role in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” comes with the added pressure, and the reassurance, that King herself approved you, said Gish. “To know that Carole King herself knows we exist and actually approved us, is a great honor,” he said.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” features many big hits written by King and her husband, Gerry Goffin. Photo courtesy of Portland Ovations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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