On Stage: ‘Beautiful’ music on stage at Academy

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Sarah Bockel as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

It’s very likely that you know these songs — “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “I Feel the Earth Move.” But you may not know what links these familiar songs together.

All these classic hits were written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

Do you know what bond links these familiar songs — “On Broadway,” “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” “Walking in the Rain,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

All these classic hits were written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

These 10 songs and a whole lot of other all-time great pop songs are featured in the lively musical “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” — the award-winning show that is running now through January 20 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org).

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which is part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series, tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom — from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history.

The hit show is a jukebox musical with a book by Douglas McGrath that looks at the early life and career of King using songs that she wrote with Goffin along with other contemporary songs by Mann, Weil, Phil Spector and others.

The original production of “Beautiful” had its world premiere at the Curran Theatre, San Francisco in October 2013. It made its Broadway debut at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in January 2014.

In the national tour, Sarah Bockel plays King, Dylan S. Wallach plays Goffin, Alison Whitehurst plays Weil and Jacob Heimer plays Mann.

Alison Whitehurst

“Prior to my audition, I had never heard of Cynthia Weil,” said Whitehurst, during a recent phone interview. “Now, I know her music. She and Barry Mann are so talented.”

Whitehurst’s musical background is more Broadway than pop.

“I graduated from Texas Christian University and then worked in regional houses in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for a few years,” said Whitehurst.

Now, I’ve been living in New York for the last four-and-a-half years.

“What brought me to New York was a role in The Fortress of Solitude at The Public Theatre. I did there months there.”

Her previous experience with The Fortress of Solitude at the Dallas Theatre Center gave her a passion for developing new works. After her New York debut, Alison got on board with the workshop of “Born For This: The Bebe Winans Story,” which was directed and conceived by Charles Randolph-Wright (“Motown the Musical”) with music by Bebe Winans (Grammy-winning Gospel Singer/Songwriter).

Whitehurst continued with the company for the show’s premiers at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Arena Stage in D.C., and The Broad Stage in California, playing the role of Penny.

“I auditioned for ‘Beautiful’ in October 2017,” said Whitehurst, a native of Sugar Land, Texas. “I auditioned on Friday, got a call back on Monday and an offer on Wednesday. My first rehearsal was January 2018. When I initially joined, I was in the ensemble for five months until the First National Tour ended. I got this role in the Second National Tour, which opened in Denver in September.

“Once I got the role of Cynthia, I started studying the script to learn the character. A lot of backstory informs the script. I also listened to a lot of her interviews on the internet.”

Audiences love Carole King’s music and love to hear it played live. On top of that, they get to hear the story of the pre-“Tapestry” Carole King. They learn a lot about a songwriter’s life in that era — going to an office building like the Brill Building every day to write songs. This show is based at 1650 Broadway.

On his website, rock music legend Al Kooper wrote, “The greatest writers of the early-’60s — Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Howie Greenfield and Neil Sedaka, Jack Keller and Helen Miller — were all signed to the same publishing company. It was called Aldon Music and it was named after its two partners Al Nevins and Don Kirshner.

“Songs like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,” and “Up On The Roof” poured out of this genius monopoly like water from the tap. The Brill Building’s finest moments were in the ’40s and late ’50s at best. The Brill Building was a throwback to the past and the original Tin Pan Alley.

“The rents were high, and so the embryonic music business minions of the early ’60s flocked to 51st and Broadway to the renovated building with the reasonable, competitive rents known as 1650 Broadway. That’s all it was called. It wasn’t “The ______ Building.” And while it was only 1650 Broadway, the brilliance of pop and soul music birthed there hides in revisionist anonymity.”

Whitehurst lists her favorite Weil songs as “Somewhere Out There,” “Don’t Know Much,” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.”

“I like the way Cynthia Weil is a blend of sophistication and soul,” said Whitehurst. “Shoe doesn’t doubt her gifts and her talents. She has a way of wielding her confidence.”

While many touring shows have a six-day stay and some only three days, “Beautiful” is sitting down at the Academy of Music for 13 days.

“I’ve never been to Philadelphia so I’m very thankful for two weeks there,” said Whitehurst. “Our whole cast is very excited about being in Philly.”

Video link for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” — https://youtu.be/XqLzzZCEiZY.

Ticket prices for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” range from $25-$149.

If you’re looking for a serving of modern Irish music rather than American pop, then the show for you is Lankum’s concert on January 9 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

Lankum

The band, which is based in Dublin, Ireland, combines distinctive four-part vocal harmonies with arrangements of uilleann pipes, concertina, accordion, fiddle, Russian accordion, and guitar. The quartet’s repertoire spans humorous Dublin music-hall ditties and street-songs, classic ballads from the Traveller tradition, traditional Irish and American dance tunes, and its own original material.

The Irish foursome features brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, along with Cormac MacDiarmada and Radie Peat. When not on tour, Ian lectures in Irish Folklore and musical traditions at University College Dublin, while MacDiarmada (fiddle) and Peat (concertina) grew up as champion traditional players.

“Me and my brother started playing music together when we were 18 and 19,” said Ian Lynch, during a recent trans-Atlantic phone interview from his home in Dublin. “It was scrappy, folk-punk music. We spent a number of years touring around.

“We also had an interest in straight-forward Irish traditional music. I took up uilleann pipes and he took up the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning guitar style. Learning to play uilleann pipes was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Then, we asked Colin and Radie to join us at one show and it grew from there.”

The band was originally formed as an experimental-psychedelic-folk-punk-duo by the Lynch brothers just after the turn of the century. The band’s reputation grew after the release of its album “Cold Old Fire” and a subsequent appearance on the popular U.K. show “Later… with Jools Holland.”

“We were used to playing with each other in the clubs,” said Lynch. “We all grew up in Dublin and we all had similar tastes in music. It came together pretty fast.”

Having spent a number of years performing as “Lynched,” a play on Ian and Daragh’s family name Lynch, the band decided that they would no longer continue with the name due to the unavoidable implications that it has in regard to acts of racist violence. The new name comes from the ballad “False Lankum,” as sung by the Irish Traveller John Reilly Jr.

“We changed the name two years ago because we didn’t want to be associated with racial violence,” said Lynch. “Lankum is the Irish version of an old English ballad. We liked John Reilly Jr.’s version of the song about a man living in a bog – a mason who was not paid for his work, so he killed the lord and his family. It’s very epic – and very bloody.”

Lankum is touring in support of its latest album on Rough Trade Records – “Between the Earth and Sky.”

“We recorded ‘Between the Earth and Sky’ two years ago,” said Lynch. “We recorded it up in the north of Ireland in County Down at a vintage studio called Analogue Catalogue.

“We spent two weeks up there and recorded all of it to tape. Recording to analog tape was different than what we expected. When we finished there, we brought it back to Dublin and spent six months mixing the album. We’re going to record our next album after this tour of the states.”

Video link for Lankum – https://youtu.be/cZo5qs2VamE.

The show at Sellersville Theater will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $19.50-$29.50.

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