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BWW Interview: Final 'Carole King' Sarah Bockel Looks Back on BEAUTIFUL's Beautiful Legacy

Beautiful: The Carole King MusicalThe earth is still moving at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, but only until October 27, 2019. As BroadwayWorld previously reported, the musical, based on life of recording superstar Carole King, will conclude its record-breaking Broadway run in just under a month.

By the time Beautiful takes its final bow, it will have played 60 preview and 2,418 regular performances, surpassing the original production of Annie and the landmark 1998 revival of Cabaret to become the 27th longest-running musical (and the 2nd longest running "bio-musical") in Broadway history. On Broadway, the show has been seen by almost 2,200,000 audience members (including, quite famously, Ms. King herself) and has grossed nearly $250,000,000. The musical is the longest-running and highest-grossing show in the history of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre and recouped its production costs in less than ten months on Broadway. Acclaimed productions have played London, Japan, Australia, and toured the United Kingdom. The North American tour is celebrating its fourth year of sold out runs across the continent.

Current 'Carole King,' Sarah Bockel, has been along for the ride, first joining the national touring company in 2015. On September 5, she officially took over the role on Broadway, and she's telling us all about why she couldn't be happier to lead the cast through its final performances.

I know that you're in your third week as Carole on Broadway. How's it been going so far?

It's good! My body is definitely bouncing back. I feel like every time I have some time off from the show and then go back to it, my body remembers pretty quickly what it takes. It's just about getting back into the maintenance of the role. It's nice that my body and my mind remember it all!

You've been on tour with Beautiful before now. When did you join the company?

I was a Chicago actor up until just a few weeks ago when I finally moved to New York. I sent in a tape for the show from Chicago in 2014- this was for the tour. And I got it, so I was in the original tour cast in 2015. I understudied Abby Mueller, then I understudied Julia Knitel, who took over for Abbey in year two. Then I left about six months into year two, because I had been touring for about eighteen months at that point. I was really ready to just go home to Chicago and was really excited to see how life would have changed after doing a national tour. I ended up being unemployed for about five months.

Then the producers called me and asked if I would take over for Julia for year three. So I did year three and four on the road as Carole. In between those bits, I covered on Broadway and was in the ensemble of Beautiful for about six weeks. So I snuck in my Broadway debut really quick! Then last year I got to play Carole on Broadway for about a month because Chilina Kennedy, who was playing her then, is a Toronto native, and so when the tour wen there, they asked if we would switch. And I was like, "Heck yeah!"

So you've really been all over the place...

Yeah, there's just a small handful of states that I haven't been to at this point. I've seen a lot of different iterations of the show and I've seen all of the understudies. It's really cool to see how the show has grown and to get to see it through so many different people.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

I can't imagine how hard it is to step on the moving train that is a running Broadway show, but it seems like you're pretty much a pro, having done it so many times already.

I actually really like doing that. There are certain people who are better at it than others I think. You don't want to step on anybody's toes, and you want to be the puzzle piece that can just flawlessly move in and not change anybody's show. But truly, it speaks to the people who have been in the show forever, who are excited and willing to compromise and willing to make something new together.

I'm sure there is a ton of pressure involved with playing a real person, let alone a real , living person. Has that made it harder to find your version of the character and really make it your own?

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

I think it definitely depends on what the creative team wants. There are standards that you want to abide by, just in her actual character as a person. She is a very gracious, kind, able to laugh at herself kind of person. There are these really strong qualities that anyone who is a fan of her knows, just from interviews and stuff. I think that our casting team is really incredible, because you can look at all of the women who have played Carole and see that we are all different body shapes and heights and ages. It's nice that they didn't stick to a physical standard and it's more of a personality standard. It's a lot of good, kind women who have been cast, and I truly like all of them.

Just to be playing Carole King I'd imagine is such an honor in itself, but there's such a legacy of actresses played the role up until now. How does it feel knowing you'll be the final Carole?

It's really cool and I'm so proud to get to do it. I feel up to the task, if only because I've spent so much time with it. Understudying was the absolute best thing for me. It took the pressure of playing an icon off and allowed me, through watching Abby and Julia and Chilina, to really watch how it was done.

Do you have a favorite Carole King song?

My favorite song definitely changes. It was originally "It's Too Late." The songs that I didn't like singing or didn't get originally, have changed as I've changed. I never thought a long run like thins could be so artistically fulfilling. I remember in Chicago, Amy Morton said once that eight shows a week is the death of art. Someone told me she said that while she was touring August, Osage County. Some days it's more work, but there is so much to be gained by staying open in the play. As I've grown as a woman, things make a lot more sense to me. Things become a lot more clear in her heartbreak and ability to find strength in herself.

I think that's the sign of a great song too. That every time you listen, you hear something new...

Absolutely. Especially in the context of Beautiful- I never really understood the song "Natural Woman." In the context fo the play, she doesn't want to sing it. It means something completely different now that the man she wrote it about, she's no longer married to. So with all of those layers, how do you sing this joyful song that you don't want to sing, but at the end it becomes something completely different. It's like an anthem that says: "I am enough."

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

When October 28th comes around, what are you going to miss the most about Beautiful?

I'm going to miss seeing the people every day and singing the songs every day. I'm gonna miss wearing the wigs... well, some of the wigs [Laughs]. I'm gonna miss this wave of electricity I get being onstage alone, playing an instrument that I don't know how to play, with the ensemble singing on the sides of the stage. It surrounds me. I'm going to miss feeling totally free. At the end, if I get the applause on the last chord of the song, I know that I got them. I'm gonna miss that adrenaline rush, that no matter what was going on that day, that's how I get to end it.

What kind of legacy do you hope that this show leaves? What do you want people to remember about it?

I want especially women to remember that this story was about a regular woman. Not regular... I mean, she's a genius, but regular in that her story didn't revolve around her looks or her body. It was about her drive and her willingness to rise to the challenge. She always took what life threw at her. And at the end, she was accepted and loved for just being herself. That's want I want people to walk away with.

With a book by Tony and Academy® Award nominee Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni, and choreography by Josh Prince, Beautiful features a stunning array of beloved songs written by Gerry Goffin/Carole King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil.

From the string of pop classics she wrote for the biggest acts in music to her own life-changing, chart-busting success with Tapestry, Beautiful takes you back to where it all began - and takes you on the ride of a lifetime.

Featuring over two dozen pop classics, including "You've Got a Friend," "One Fine Day," "Up on the Roof," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," and "Natural Woman," this crowd-pleasing international phenomenon is filled with the songs you remember - and a story you'll never forget.

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From This Author Nicole Rosky