BWW Interview: Ben Fankhauser as Barry Mann in BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL on Tour
BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL tells the true story of King's rise to fame as being part of a songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin. With such hits as "The Locomotion," "Up on the Roof," "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman," and "I Feel the Earth Move," BEAUTIFUL blends King's life with the music that helped define a generation. Along with songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, BEAUTIFUL tells their story of how they became some of the most successful songwriters of an era. Recently, BWW, had a chance to chat with actor, Ben Fankhauser who plays Barry Mann, to discuss the show, his role and how BEAUTIFUL is bringing in audiences of all ages as it travels around North America.
The tour went out in September of 2015. I got the role about a year before we started rehearsals. They cast us very early. I think they do that to make sure they are able to hire who they want. It was a lovely audition process. I think I had two or three of them. I came in for a prescreen and then I got to go in front of the creative team. My last audition was a chemistry read with Becky Gulsvig, my Cynthia Weil. I got the phone call a day or two after that and then I hit the road.
Have you enjoyed being out on the road like this?
Oh yes. I love this show and I love taking it across the country. We've gotten such a great response. We have packed houses everywhere we go, and it's really a privilege to be out here.
Were you able to see the show before you were cast to see the show on Broadway?
I saw the show in previews. I had a couple friends in it and I loved it. I was totally blown away. I didn't know what to expect and I remember it exceeding my expectation-especially for a jukebox musical. It's so well written and designed and directed. I saw it one other time in its first year. At that point, I sent an email to my agent saying, "Hey, I think they're probably going to do a tour of this. Maybe we should look into that."
With Carole King being such a musical icon, what do you remember about her music when you were growing up?
What's funny is I grew up with her music but I had no idea that she was the songwriter. My mom played a lot of Motown, I love that style of music. I remember hearing "Up on the Roof" and "Locomotion" even "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" It wasn't until I saw the show that I had any idea she was the mastermind behind the music.
I also read that you got to meet Carole King. How was that meeting?
That was awesome. She was so supportive. She came to see us in Boston. She came backstage and visited with us and she seemed so moved by the show. Her real life is on that stage so I can't imagine how hard that must be to relive and re-watch. She seemed really moved and grateful and happy to be there. We were happy to have her. It was a treat to meet her.
Barry is one half of an iconic songwriting team that is Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. They came up through the ranks with Carole. Barry writes the music and Cynthia does the lyrics. I totally relate to him because he a young artist. He has got ambition and he's trying to get his songs out there. He's in competition with a lot of his friends. Being an actor, I totally relate to that. Doug McGrath wrote him so wonderfully. He wrote him as this smart ambitious artist, who's extremely passionate and a bit of a hypochondriac. I think he's really funny and endearing. There's a great opportunity to play a really rounded out individual who's just like all of us-balancing our passion with work, and love, and joy and fear. I really enjoy getting to play him. Like I said, I relate to him because I'm an artist as well.
I didn't want to forget to mention your recent reunion with the cast of NEWSIES and the recent movie that was released. Tell us about the reunion and the filming.
I'm honestly still processing it. It wasn't until I saw it in the movie theater that I really processed what we had undertaken. We spent two weeks working really really hard on it and I was actually able to take a hiatus from BEAUTIFUL to do it. It was so nostalgic getting to revisit the show again and getting to rediscover the characters with Jeremy and Andrew and Kara. That show holds such a special place in my heart and it's so special to so many people. It felt amazing to dig that back up again.
Because of your NEWSIES fame, I guessing you see a lot of the fans from NEWSIES coming to see BEAUTIFUL.
I love it. It warms my heart. I really enjoy getting to meet some of the younger fans who might be new to Carole King or that era of music. It is very different now than it was in the 50's and 60's. Perhaps not a lot of younger fans got exposure to the history of music and where it came from and why it is what it is today. With our show and especially with Carole's story, it's a great look into our history of music. If they're coming to the show because they want to see me, that's why they're there, I'm happy that some people might get exposed to something greater! It seems that when I'm meeting people after the show that they're loving the material and they're loving the songs and they love the characters so that's a huge victory for me to be able to meld the two.
Do you have any dream roles you hope to play someday?
This is one of the hardest questions for me. I've never been one to put all my eggs in one basket or put the cart before the horse. I try to not get my hopes up about certain roles. I've always had a hard time answering this question. Some roles that I love are Floyd Collins in FLOYD COLLINS and Jamie in THE LAST FIVE YEARS. There are a lot of roles that I really love and I'm sure I'll get a crack at one day but also I really enjoy taking on new things and reading new works. I'm hoping that there's a character out there that for me that is unwritten and will be discovered through a new writer and through me.
BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL plays from March 21-26, 2017 at Bass Concert Hall in Austin, Texas. To purchase tickets, go to the Texas Performing Arts website. Don't miss this great show as it comes to Austin.
PHOTO CREDIT: Joan Marcus