Interview: Britta Rae Talks BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at The Garden Theatre

Rae finally gets her chance to become King.

By: Jun. 24, 2023
Interview: Britta Rae Talks BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at The Garden Theatre
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The night before she was to perform in the unified college auditions in Chicago, Britta Rae saw BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL.

Rae, who portrays the singer/songwriter in the Short North Stage production of BEAUTIFUL, walked out of the theater a changed person.

“My mom (Jill Cowan) is a huge Carole King fan and she said to me, ‘I got us tickets to see BEAUTIFUL!’ I was like ‘Okay,’” Rae said, her voice taking on the unenthusiastic tone of a teenager. “I didn’t know much about King at the time.

“It turned out to be the perfect thing to watch the night before one of the scariest theater moments of my life.”

Rae hopes audiences leave the show as inspired as she was. BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL, runs July 6-30 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus). King was one of the original staff writers at the legendary Brill Building and has written or co-written 118 songs that landed on the Billboard Pop Charts. As a solo artist, King is the voice behind such classics as “It’s Too Late,” “I Feel The Earth Move,” “Nightingale,” and “Jazzman.”

BEAUTIFUL has something for nearly everyone, including those who are unaware of King’s work.

“People say they don’t know much about Carole, but then you say, ‘Do you know this song? And this song? And this song? She’s the genius behind those songs.’

“The first time I saw BEAUTIFUL, I realized just how much of a hand Carole had in the music industry. I didn't know anything about her struggles or her personal relationships. She just shows so much strength and vulnerability throughout the entire show.”

Rae comes from a family of performers. Her mother was a piano and voice instructor; her father Spencer plays a wide variety of instruments. Her oldest sister Kate Jackman is a professional mezzo-soprano opera singer, and her middle sister Ellyn Cowan is a professional salsa dancer.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) in 2022, Rae knew playing King was something she had to do.

When she heard SNS was performing BEAUTIFUL during its 2023-24 season, Rae jumped at the chance to audition.

“I cried when I got the call saying I got the role,” the singer said. “In college, we’d focus on dream roles. I’d always pick BEAUTIFUL because I was determined to play her one day.”

If Director Dionysia Williams casted the show based on headshots, Rae might have been a shoe-in. However, once she saw Rae try out, Williams knew she had found her King.

“Britta brings an energy to the role that makes her compelling to watch,” Williams said. “She does an excellent job of bringing all the emotions Carole goes through during this period of her life - the ups and downs - and you really root for her success. “Britta's voice is also stunning and is a lovely mix of herself with strong inspiration of how Carole sings.

During one practice, Williams brought in one of her King albums and said to Rae, “You look just like her.”

Rae, however, remains unconvinced of the resemblance.

“When someone tells a friend, ‘You look like this person or that person,’ the person never sees it,’” Rae said sheepishly. “It has been fun playing with the wigs and stuff (to match King’s look from different parts of her career).”
Playing King will be a bit of a change up for Rae from her work in Sondheim pieces. Her past roles have included Dot/Marie in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, and the Baker’s Wife in INTO THE WOODS.

“Sondheim is one of my favorite musical theater composers so there is a sense of comfort singing his stuff, even as difficult as it is,” Rae said. “(BEAUTIFUL) is completely different.

“If I must sing something musical theatery, I sing Sondheim. When I'm just singing in the shower or in the car, I always gravitate toward King’s ‘Tapestry’ album. Her folky stuff feels comfy. There's a whole different technique and style.”

Rae believes the biggest challenge of tackling her BEAUTIFUL role is not becoming a facsimile of King but to bring a bit of herself to the role.

“As iconic as those Sondheim roles were, they weren’t real people,” Rae said. “With Sondheim, people know what Bernadette Peters or other performers did with their roles, but you still have the creative liberty to do what you want with this fictional character.

“With Carole, people know what she does, how she sounds, and her mannerisms. You don't want it to be an impersonation; you want to bring your own spin, your own humanity to the role.

“I find myself obsessing over when things don't sound exactly how Carole did it. I remind myself nobody's going to think that’s Carole up there. If everything is out of respect for her, I try not to get too in my head about sounding and looking exactly like her.”

Rae’s similarities with King however go far beyond looking the part. The singer identifies with the struggles King went through because she is still fighting her way through them.

 “Carole's riddled with insecurities and self-doubt,” Rae said. “I've just grown up with the same insecurities and self-doubt (King experiences in BEAUTIFUL). Everybody surrounding Carole knows how special and incredible she is, but she can't see that in herself.”

“It's easy to feel like the (entertainment) industry doesn’t have a place for you. There’s a beauty in sticking it out.”


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