By Michael Gioia
24 Feb 2014
SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL
At 19 years old, Canadian actor Jake Epstein made (what most felt to be) a risky decision to leave the cult TV teen drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation" to attend the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. Epstein's "Degrassi" character, Craig Manning, put down his guitar during the show's fifth season (only returning for minor guest appearances in Seasons 6-8), and theatre was Epstein's new focus. Following on-the-road stints in Spring Awakening, where he starred as radical teen Melchior Gabor, and American Idiot, where he played alcohol and drug-addicted youth Will, Epstein landed his first Broadway gig in the high-flying musical Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.
After a fair share of angst-ridden teens and comic-book nerds, Epstein takes on songwriting icon Gerry Goffin in Broadway's Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, where he journeys from Goffin's high-school days — and meeting collaborator Carole King — to riding the top of the Billboard charts and his breakup with King, the center of Broadway's Beautiful.
Jake Epstein: When I first read this script, I was attracted to the part of Gerry because of all that! [Laughs.] I found it so interesting. I couldn't figure out whether he was the villain or he was sort of the misunderstood hero or he was this artist or he was someone with real mental issues. I think he's all those things… And, the more I've learned about him, the more I'm a huge fan of his. He wrote some incredible lyrics, and his story at that time, I just find really, really interesting.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Where did you begin to create your character? Did you meet Gerry Goffin beforehand?
JE: No… I have met him, but our director, Marc Bruni, and our writer, Douglas McGrath, made the decision that we weren't going to imitate these people because firstly, people don't know Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil [and] Barry Mann as people — they know their work. People know Carole King, so they felt like what was more important was to tell their story — to be completely inspired by their story. But…it's a musical, so it's about being "truthful" to what happened. Our writer, Doug McGrath, spent a lot of time interviewing all these guys, so [there were] a lot of conversations I had with him… We talked a lot, especially because Gerry is such a complicated character to understand why he was doing what he did — why he made these decisions. And, it was very important for Doug not to portray him as the villain.
Tell me about finally meeting Gerry Goffin.
JE: I've met him twice. Each of the times, it was very brief, and — without going into too much [detail], he has good days, and he has bad days — when I met him, it was difficult for him to communicate on those days, so I got to speak to him very, very briefly, but he was a big fan. He really liked it. He was aware of everything going on, and to be honest, he made these mistakes when he was younger. He was the one who wanted to tell this story. He wanted to tell it as truthfully as the musical could do and not just sugarcoat it because he knows that he made mistakes back then.