Chilina Kennedy enjoys homecoming in Toronto. Featured in CTV News – https://goo.gl/C95pos
Canadian theatre star Chilina Kennedy admits she was a little starstruck during the early days of portraying Carole King on Broadway — especially when she got her first email from the legendary American singer-songwriter.
“I was like: ‘Carole? I don’t have any friends named Carole. Oh my gosh, it’s Carole King!”‘ says Kennedy, laughing as she recalls her startled reaction.
“She said: “Oh, I heard you’re great in the show. I want to come see you. Do you want to know when I’m coming?’ I responded: ‘Dear Ms. King: please do not tell me when you’re coming because I will fall over.’
“She wrote back and said she would surprise me, and so she did, and it was fantastic.”
Kennedy, who was born in Oromocto, N.B., will enjoy a Canadian homecoming as she headlines “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto beginning Tuesday. The production charts King’s ascension to musical superstardom writing and singing some of pop music’s most enduring hits.
Kennedy plays opposite St. John’s, N.L., native Liam Tobin, who portrays King’s former husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin.
Kennedy has a rich theatrical pedigree on both sides of the border. She spent three seasons at both the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival in Ontario, starred in a touring production of “Mamma Mia!”, and portrayed Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway.
Kennedy replaced Jessie Mueller in Broadway’s “Beautiful” in March 2015. Beyond the famed New York stage, the Canadian enjoyed a whirlwind year singing alongside and in honour of King.
Kennedy joined the pop icon on U.S. morning show “Today” to perform “I Feel The Earth Move.” She was also part of a powerhouse musical tribute to King at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., with former U.S. president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle in attendance.
Kennedy recalls a special moment with James Taylor after she forgot staging cues for the final number.
“He said: ‘Don’t worry about it’ and he took my hand and we came out together,” she says of her interaction with the celebrated singer-songwriter, who recorded King’s “You Got A Friend” in 1971.
“The people of that generation, in that music scene, were so generous,” adds Kennedy. “It seems to me from the research that I’ve done and from meeting these people there’s just a sense of community and collaboration and a sense of ‘us’ as opposed to ‘I’ that I think is really important in music and in theatre and the world right now. We need less ‘me’ and more ‘we.”‘
King was just 17 when she co-wrote her first chart-topper “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” with Goffin. The duo collaborated on dozens of tunes performed by countless artists including Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons, “I’m Into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits, and Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
King found historic solo success with 1971’s “Tapestry,” which won four Grammys and remained the bestselling album by a female artist for 25 years.
Kennedy says she’s marvelled at the powerful connections theatregoers have to King and her music.
“I’ve heard: ‘Oh, “You’ve Got A Friend” was me and my friend driving across the country,’ or ‘This is a song that I listened to … when I split from my husband.’ People remember the time and the place where they were when those songs were on the radio,” says Kennedy.
“People respond very powerfully to powerful messages, and especially a strong woman’s story (of) succeeding despite roadblocks and challenges,” she adds.
“I find her story powerful and I know other people do because they tell me after the show. They say how moved they are by that, and how people feel more beautiful, they feel more hopeful, they feel more joyful after hearing her story.”
“Beautiful” runs in Toronto until Aug. 20