TAMPA — Carole King went to New York in 1959 at age 16, hoping to become a songwriter. She became one of the most beloved recording artists of our time.
A stage version of her journey, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical, starts Tuesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Two of the characters in the show, songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, are even more well known, at least through their work.
Ever heard the Righteous Brothers tune You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling? How about Walking in the Rain? Or for that matter, would you recognize On Broadway, Just Once, Don't Know Much or We've Gotta Get Out of This Place? Mann and Weil wrote them all, part of a legendary career that includes penning an incredible 50 hit songs. I reached the husband-and-wife team by phone in Beverly Hills, where they live and work.
Some elements of the musical, adapted from a book by Douglas McGrath, have been massaged slightly for clean storytelling. Take the scene that has Weil and Mann first laying eyes on each other in a rehearsal room with King.
"I was actually stalking Barry," said Weil, 75. But it's close enough. The most important part — a crazy competitive chemistry between Mann and Weil as one team, and King and Gerry Goffin as the other — is dead on, the couple said.
"It was kind of schizophrenic," said Mann, 77. "We loved them, but there was also jealousy."
That burning drive to not only equal but outdo their friends' latest song launched four brilliant careers. (Goffin, who married and divorced King, died in 2014.)
The most crucial part of the story, which shows King's growth blossoming during a personal crisis, is also on the money. Before the breakup, Goffin had written all of the lyrics. King felt adrift at first without him, then wrote some of the biggest hits of 1970s and beyond. We're talking the likes of Natural Woman, So Far Away, I Feel the Earth Move and many more. Her breakout 1971 album, Tapestry, is one of the all-time best sellers, with 25 million copies.
"I was shocked when the album came out," Mann said, "because I didn't know what a good lyricist she was."
Tapestry also showcased King as a singer whose unvarnished delivery made her records feel authentic. Listeners in the 1970s didn't know King when it came out but felt as if she knew them.
"A whole generation identified with all of the songs on that album," Weil said.
King approved the musical but struggled with having painful parts of her life on display, Mann and Weil said. She attended a read-through of the Broadway musical but left at intermission. In April 2014, she attended Beautiful for the first time.
"She came in disguise, so no one could see her watching it," Weil said. King surprised the cast by walking on stage at the curtain call, then led the cast in, You've Got a Friend.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.