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When Paul Blake, the producer of Beautiful, asked me if I wanted to write a Broadway musical about Carole King, her ex-husband and lyricist, Gerry Goffin, and their fellow songwriters, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, there was something I had to know before I could commit.
“Are they all alive?” I asked.
Actually, that sounded like bad news. I had once worked on a screenplay about a real person whose vanity was so advanced that he would not let me portray him as anything less than thrillingly perfect which took all the struggle, and thus drama, out of his story. Audiences aren’t interested in characters without flaws – even Achilles had that tendon trouble.
But Paul kept after me, constantly telling me things that might entice me. He reminded me that the songwriters had had their offices at 1650 Broadway, one of the two buildings people mean when they refer to the legendary Brill Building sound. (The Brill Building was down the street at 1619 Broadway.) These buildings had once been the province of the classic American songwriters of the Tin Pan Alley age and then, in the ’50s, became the place where kids came to create rock’n’roll. Maybe there was something in that clash, the old being ousted by the new? Carole, Barry and Cynthia were coming to New York to interview book writers. “Come meet them,” Paul said. “They’re a lot of fun.”
So I went and he was right, they were a lot of fun. I was so at ease, I told them my idea, and I could feel as I told it that it was right: a musical about kids chasing out the old guard so they could create the new sound of rock’n’roll. Carole’s face lit up. I knew I had nailed it. She leaned forward to share her reaction.
“That,” she said warmly, taking my hand, “is completely wrong.”