If you had to name the “King” of Broadway, who would you pick? There are so many stars to choose from! But, now that [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Carole King[/lastfm]’s life story is hitting the great white way…there’s an OBVIOUS choice.
(Courtesy of Michael Riedel – New York Post)
Take a look at the songlist from “Baby It’s You,” the new Broadway musical about the Shirelles, and you’ll notice a startling omission: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” the song that launched the Shirelles, is nowhere to be found.
That’s like trying to do “Jersey Boys” without “Oh, What a Night,” “Million Dollar Quartet” without “Great Balls of Fire” and “Mamma Mia!” without “Dancing Queen.”
So why isn’t the Shirelles’ signature tune in the show? Because the great Carole King, who wrote it, is keeping it for her own Broadway musical, which is called (a little too predictably, I’m afraid) “Natural Woman.”
The show makes good use of King’s catalog, from early hits like “Chains” and “Crying in the Rain” to the great songs of “Tapestry,” to tell the story of her life and career.
She grew up in Brooklyn and was writing songs while still in her teens. At Queens College, she hung out with Neil Sedaka (who makes a fleeting appearance in the show), Paul Simon and Gerry Goffin, whom she married.
A lot of the show takes place at the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway, those legendary factories of chart-topping songs from the ’50s and ’60s. For years, Broadway producers have been trying to fashion a Brill Building musical, but lining up the rights to songs by the likes of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Neil Diamond, all in one musical, hasn’t been easy.
The closest thing to a Brill Building show that I can think of was “They Wrote That?,” a terrific revue written and performed by Mann and Weil that ran off-Broadway in 2004. Weil narrated the show, recalling how they were holed up around pianos in tiny offices, trying to crank out hits. It was a fertile time for American popular music, and the industry was full of the kind of larger-than-life characters you need for a Broadway musical.
The danger, of course, for such a show — indeed, for “Natural Woman” — is that it plays like catalog musicals in which the hits are ticked off one after the other. “And then I wrote this, and then I wrote that” is not much of a plot. But “Jersey Boys” proved that good writers like Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice can mine the real-life tensions and conflicts of making it big in the music business to fashion an emotionally engaging script.
From what I hear, writer Douglas McGrath has done a similar job with King’s life. McGrath, who wrote the screenplays for “Bullets Over Broadway” (with Woody Allen) and “Emma,” zeroes in on King’s troubled marriage to Goffin, whom she divorced in 1968. He left her, according to the script, shortly after their daughter was born. An emotional highlight of the show is when King finds out he’s leaving and sings to her baby, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
“Not a dry eye in the house,” says a person involved in the show. It was made even more poignant by the presence of that daughter, Sherry Goffin Kondor, who, as her mother’s manager, is overseeing the project.
There’s no director yet, but I hear Kathleen Marshall, up for a Tony for “Anything Goes,” is a Carole King fan and might soon be “taking a meeting.”
“Natural Woman” is worth keeping an eye on.
In the meantime, get out that old “Tapestry” album, kick off your shoes, pour yourself a glass of wine and drift off to “So Far Away.”