So Far Away: Why Carole King Won't See the Beautiful Musical About Her Life

By Robert Simonson
22 Dec 2013

Jessie Mueller
Photo by Joan Marcus

A musical using King's music has been in the works for years, but it didn't always tell the songwriter's story. Goffin and King were interested in seeing their work used as the score of a fictional tale. The resultant project was given a 2005 reading in Los Angeles, directed by John Rando. A second reading, in New York in 2006, had a book by Rita Rudner and others and was directed by Michael Blakemore. "It just didn't work," recalled Christine Russell, who has represented Goffin for nearly 20 years. "At that time, it was very clear we needed to tell their story. We knew that deep down, but it was a matter of getting Gerry and Carole — but mostly Carole — on board."

When Roger Faxon of EMI took the reins of the project, the conviction to tell King's story solidified. Then, producer Paul Blake and writer McGrath were brought in, and Mann and Weil's lives were weaved into the plotline. "They were an integral part of those early years," explained Russell. "And it made Gerry and Carole more comfortable. The focus wasn't all on them." Both Kondor, who is also King's manager, and Russell are executive producers of the show.

Bookwriter McGrath actually spent time with King. "Douglas interviewed all the principals before he started to write," explained Weil. "As the drafts went on, we contributed ideas and they sometimes took them and sometimes didn't."

Since then, however, King has kept her distance. "My role has been to represent Carole and her wishes insofar as I can guess them," said Kondor. "But I bring her stories of how it's going and she makes suggestions and I bring them to the producers."

Cast in the role of the tunesmith is Jessie Mueller, who has made a quick name for herself on Broadway in recent seasons with praised performances in revivals of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, receiving a Tony nod for the former. At the time she auditioned, the Chicago native wasn't overly familiar with King's oeuvre. "I knew the music, but not terribly well," said Mueller. "I feel I knew her music more through James Taylor." Taylor, a friend of King's, had a hit with King's song "You've Got a Friend." "My father loved James Taylor. I knew her music through him, not knowing what it was. I think it's the same experience that the audience goes through in the first part of the show. 'Oh, she wrote that? She wrote that? She wrote that?'"

Mueller was lucky enough to meet with King once and found the singer very true to her earth-mother public persona. "She has one of the most open, warm energies of any person I've ever experienced," said the actress. "Everybody felt it. When you get to meet her, you feel you know her, because she's so open."

If King ever does decide to catch a performance of Beautiful, however, the audience may not know it. "She isn't planning on coming to opening night," said Kondor. "She really isn't planning on coming at all. But you never know if she'll break down and sneak in, in a hat and sunglasses."

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Jessie Mueller
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN