By Brian Scott Lipton
“Since day one of this show, we thought wouldn’t it be great to get a real singer-songwriter to play Carole King, and now, five-and-a-half-years later, we finally did it,” said “Beautiful” producer Mike Bosner to the crowd, just before introducing pop songstress Vanessa Carlton to the stage of the Sondheim Theater on June 18.
Indeed, Carlton, who will be following in the vaunted footsteps of Jessie Mueller (who won a Tony Award for the role), Chilina Kennedy and Melissa Benoist when she takes on the role of King starting June 27, is the real deal. Having first burned up the charts in 2002 with the mega-hit “One Thousand Miles,” Carlton has continued having a prolific recording career, with her sixth album, “Love is Art,” due out next year.
After showing off her dazzling skill with a poignant version of King’s “It’s Too Late,” Carlton sat down with Theater Pizzazz to discuss her Broadway debut, how motherhood has affected her, her new album, and her burning question for King when they talk.
TP: Was doing this show – or any Broadway show – on your so-called bucket list?
VC: No. When I had my daughter, that really opened me up as a person. She’s 4 years old now, and she pushes herself every day and she faces challenges every day, some of which freak her out, and she flourishes. So I thought if she could do that, then so can I. So I made a pact with myself about two years ago to do things that were out of my comfort zone, like this show. But I am really excited!
TP: A lot of this show is about being a working mother. Do you think this would have been a very different experience for you if they had asked you to play Carole five years ago, before your daughter was born.
VC: Absolutely. I call on so much of my experiences in doing this show. The script is incredible. The music is too, of course, but, for me, the play part is just as strong. I cried at the end of script when I first read it. I think without what I’ve gone through the last five years, I don’t think I could give the same performance. My goal is to leave everything I have on the table.
TP: When you appeared on the Tony Awards last week, you mentioned how first hearing Carole King’s music changed your life. Can you elaborate a little?
VC: Being classically trained on the piano, I grew up listening mostly to classical music. But when I first heard the songs on ‘Tapestry’ (King’s landmark album), I could hear this classical music in a completely new format, and I thought “oh, so that’s how you write a pop song at a piano.” That was a big part of the puzzle for me early on.
TP: When did you really discover all the music Carole wrote before “Tapestry,” especially the stuff with Gerry Goffin.
VC: So much of it, even for me, was while doing this show. It’s an education for me, and for the audience. There are so many moments when you go, “oh wow, they wrote that song?” and “oh wow, they wrote that song!”
TP: Talking about co-writing songs, do you enjoy being a collaborator or are you more comfortable just working alone?
VC: I just recently made this new album and it’s completely out of my comfort zone. It was the first time I really collaborated with someone; I found this remarkable artist in Nashville named Tristan and we actually sat down and had writing sessions three days a week and it was amazing. I finally opened up and felt comfortable expressing new ideas. It was really great.
TP: Last question, I know you haven’t talked to Carole since rehearsals began, but you will shortly. What is the one thing you most want to ask her?
VC: To be honest, I want to know what she would do if she lost her shoe on stage. I wear heels, and there are so many cracks on this stage, I’ve already lost mine two times. I want to play it off, but I don’t really know how. Maybe she does!
Photos: Jenny Anderson