When auditioning for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, about the life and career of the famed singer-songwriter, it helps to be able to play an instrument. After all, King the character spends a majority of the musical behind a piano. “I have found over the course of all of these years, that actors who do have the sense of musicality, who do play the piano or play the guitar tend to be more successful in the audition room,” explains Stephen Kopel, the casting director for the show. “They have a built-in comfort level, and sort of understand that process, what it’s like to write a song, what it's like to sing at a piano and sing your music to people. Those sort of intangible things definitely make the auditions stronger and make the connections to the character stronger.”
Though, Kopel is careful to add “it’s not a prerequisite for the show,” there are certain things that are. Actors who want to audition are encouraged to “get to know, not only the Tapestry album, but all of [Carole King’s] work. Maybe read her book, maybe do a little bit more research about the time period, that sort of stuff is important to us in terms of influencing people and helping them build a character that's their own,” says Kopel.
The casting director has been with the show since the show’s beginning, and he admits that casting a show about real-life people is especially difficult. “You definitely have a responsibility to do right by all of these people,” he says. That is why the real-life Carole King, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil (all depicted onstage) have final approval over every actor, “so that they are as excited and feel as good about the people playing them onstage as we do,” says Kopel.
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But to Kopel, the hardest part of casting the show is the ensemble. Because Beautiful is a jukebox musical, the score features songs written by King and made famous by the Shirelles, the Righteous Brothers, and the Drifters. Ensemble members play those musicians, singing solos in songs such as “One Fine Day” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” “You're casting the ensemble, but you actually need every single person in that ensemble to be a star in their own right because they have huge step-out moments in iconic songs,” says Kopel.
It’s a tough balance to strike and that is why Kopel sits behind the Beautiful audition table every week; he also travels to “at least eight or nine cities throughout the year” to scout talent. If Kopel does his job right, the characters onstage sound and act like real people, and not like a cover band or a Carole King imitator.
“We really do everything we can to ground the story in reality,” he says. “Everyone who sees the show sees that there's a particular acting style that you may not associate with jukebox musicals, that's very truthful and organic and real.”