Chilina Kennedy, Evan Todd, and more reflect on their first times experiencing the show as it celebrates five years on Broadway.
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On January 12, 2014, Beautiful: The Carol King Musical officially opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway. It was the second bio-musical to open that season (A Night With Janis Joplin opened fall 2013) and, later, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill showcased a moment in the life of Billie Holiday. But only Beautiful has lasted five unstoppable years.
Nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the production took home two wins: one for original Carole King Jessie Mueller and one for sound design by Brian Ronan—proving that the music and sound of Carole King drives the production and continues to move the earth under the feet of audiences. In celebration of their fifth anniversary on Broadway, the cast of Beautiful shares their most memorable nights onstage:
“Stepping into Carole King’s shoes more than 1,000 times over the past three years has been a privilege. I have been very fortunate to spend time with a woman whom I respect in a profoundly personal way. I have many favorite Beautiful moments, but the Kennedy Center Honors stands out for me as one of the greatest. Having the opportunity to pay tribute to Carole King alongside some of my favorite artists like Aretha Franklin and James Taylor was a dream come true. Seeing the look on Carole’s face when Aretha knocked ‘Natural Woman’ out of the park was truly extraordinary. It was an honor to be included in the celebration of Carole’s legacy.” – Chilina Kennedy, who plays Carole King
“After more than four years at Beautiful, it’s impossible to pinpoint one single high point. There were the times Carole King made a surprise appearance at the curtain call, electrifying the audience and the entire company with a spontaneous singalong. There was our performance at the Kennedy Center Honors, when we visited the White House, met the Obamas, and sang alongside Aretha Franklin and James Taylor. The faces of our audience members I see every night during the curtain call, many moved to tears, all having the time of their lives. And the birthdays, marriages, and babies that we have celebrated, the lives we have lost and mourned, and the family we’ve created that continues to grow with each passing year.” – Paul Anthony Stewart, who plays Don Kirshner
“The first time I saw Beautiful was when I went to see my good friend Jessica Keenan Wynn make her Broadway debut. We had just done Heatherstogether, and I remember getting so excited seeing her face on the side of the building. As the show started it hit me: That’s my friend in a big Broadway musical! I could never have imagined that within a year I would be up there with her.” – Evan Todd, who plays Gerry Goffin
“When I first saw Beautiful, I was completely blown away by Carole King and Cynthia Weil as women and artists. Carole is beyond amazing—her vulnerability, her strength, how she is equally heartbreaking and inspirational. And Cynthia is so smart, sassy, unapologetic, and also wonderfully loyal and loving. I am so thankful to now go to work and be reminded of what women are capable of, and I’m so proud to be a part of telling their story.” – Kate Reinders, who plays Cynthia Weil
“Beautiful is my first—and who knows, maybe my only—Broadway show, and for that I’ll always remember it. The night I made my debut is both a vivid memory and a total blur. I vividly remember sitting alone in my dressing room as ‘places’ was called, overwhelmed with nerves, and asking aloud, ‘Why do you do this to yourself?’ I remember the dry mouth. I remember people telling me to ‘just enjoy and take it all in’ and I remember thinking, ‘How could anyone do that?’ I have no idea what happened onstage—that’s where it gets blurry—but I’ve been here ever since. Happy Birthday, Beautiful, and thank you for finding in me the neuroses I never knew I had.” – Ben Jacoby, who plays Barry Mann
“Gerry Goffin came to a preview in San Francisco. I kneeled down next to him and said, ‘Hello sir, is there anything I can get for you?’ “He said, ‘Ah Genie!,” which is my character’s name, I play Carole’s mother in the show, ‘you are so beautiful. I loved you, you know. You were a great playwright.’ Genie wrote plays. I thought, ‘I bet Genie would have loved hearing that.’” – Liz Larsen, an original cast member who plays Genie Klein
“My favorite memory was rehearsing for the Tony Awards with Carole King herself. While waiting backstage she told us, ‘We must fight to stay in the wonder of what we get to do.’ She went on to explain that as years go by in this business, we can take for granted this amazing life we get to lead. That there will be days when you don’t want to give your everything, but it’s in those moments we must fight to remember how lucky we are. Being in this brilliant long-running show, I carry this advice with me every time I go onstage. It truly has been some kind of wonderful!” –Melvin Tunstall, original Broadway cast member and current swing
“One of my favorite memories is doing the Tony Awards with Carole herself, and then rushing back on the bus to the theatre to watch the announcement for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. We heard Jessie [Mueller]’s name announced and the lobby literally exploded in screams, tears, laughter, hugs, and a whole lot of jumping up and down! Ashley Blanchet—our original Little Eva—got a video of it and I feel like it encapsulates the amount of love and support this cast, crew, and entire building has for each other.” – Sara Sheperd, original Broadway cast member and current dance captain