BWW Interview: Ben Fankhauser of BEAUTIFUL THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at Overture Center
The show is about Carole King's rise to stardom. It focuses on her as a 16-year-old from Brooklyn, and her early work into Tapestry. Most people know her from the James Taylor connection and Tapestry but they don't know she wrote a massive catalog of hits long before that. Set in the 60s and 70s the show follows Carole through her journey as the decade unfolds. You'll watch her fall in love, get married, get divorced, and write hit after hit-Some Kind of Wonderful, The Locomotion, Up on the Roof.
Barry Mann, who Fankhauser plays, and Cynthia Weil were also songwriters working in the same building as Carole. They wrote massive hits like On Broadway, We Lost ThaT Loving Feeling, and We Gotta Get Out of this Place; but nobody really knows who they are because they were songwriters and not performers. "We didn't have singer songwriters yet like the Beatles and James Taylor, who wrote and performed their own songs." He also says, "The show is appealing because everyone in the audience knows the music, but doesn't know where it came from."
Barry and Cynthia were basically Carole King's best friends and main competitors. It adds this neat layer to the story because it gives a glimpse of how competitive the writing field was back then. All the pop hits of the day were written by a handful of writers. They shared a little cubicle with a thin wall in between and were in competition to get that number one slot. They vacationed together and became very close over the years.
The songs are timeless and still resonate today. The show is jam packed with nostalgia. Fankhauser loves the emotional response from the audience. "We're telling this great compelling story and then when we start into a song that everyone seems to know. A lot of times you can hear the audience collectively sigh and instantly you feel they remember where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing when they heard this music on the radio. It's hard not to connect your own personal journey to the story."
Fankhauser says that Barry Mann is one of the favorite characters he's ever played. "He's hilarious and a real artist. I identify with him on that level being a sort of freelance actor who's always in competition with my friends and constantly working to get better. That's exactly who Barry is as a songwriter. He's totally neurotic, worried about his health all the time, worried about beating Carole and Gerry, at getting the number one slot. He's written really well."
We watch Carole and husband Gerry Goffin fizzle and fall apart while Barry and Cynthia come together. It's really a nice juxtaposition to the story. "I get to play a love story every night and who doesn't love that?" Barry's on his way to a meeting and sees Cynthia in Carole's office and doubles back and says who's your pretty friend? It's love at first sight for them, but she's a strong independent woman who isn't ready to settle down yet. So he spends a lot of the show chasing after her and being madly in love. It's funny and heart warming as well.
When asked about how he landed the roll, Fankhauser explained that the process was on the short side with only three auditions over a couple of weeks. "It was one of those kind of magical moments when everyone in the room seemed to be in silent agreement. I loved the material. I'd seen the show and loved it."
The audition went well but his agent called to say, "Ben, you couldn't have done better, they loved you, but aren't sure about your age. You might be a little to young so they aren't going to bring you any further along in the process."
So the casting moved forward without him until he received a call a couple of days later. They hadn't found anyone in their final audition and asked, how would he like to come in and do a chemistry read with the actress they were considering for the part of Cynthia. At the time, Fankhauser was rehearsing for an off Broadway show at the York Theatre. "On my hour lunch break from that show, I would walk across town, audition for Beautiful and then walk back to rehearsal. It was a busy couple of weeks before getting the part."
That led to asking Fankhauser about Newsies and how he landed his first Broadway role right out of college. "Originating the role of Davey in NEWSIES THE MUSICAL was as miraculous as it sounds," he explained. He was the last role cast, and it was an extremely brief process. The creatives spent a couple of months finding dancers, but hadn't found who they wanted yet for Davey. It wasn't until Fankhauser was auditioning for the national tour of THE ADDAMS FAMILY, which was cast by the same casting director. He told Fankhauser's agent he wasn't right for that show, but would love to bring him in for Davey in NEWSIES THE MUSICAL, which was great news because he'd wanted to get in for an open call, but missed it.
Fankhauser went in for the casting director and some creatives, was asked back to dance that evening, and for a final audition the next morning. He learned he landed the role about an hour after that. "It was a two-day process, which is pretty rare." NEWSIES THE MUSICAL opened on Broadway the spring of 2012 and had a lovely two-year run. Fankhauser resumed his role as Davey again when they filmed the movie last September. It released on iTunes in late May, so be sure to check it out.
With it being Tony season, I asked Fankhauser, who has performed on the Tony's twice, to describe the experience.
The Tony Awards are one of the craziest weeks in all of Broadway. The week leading up to awards night each individual show is rehearsing their cut of their number. Then on Friday have camera blocking, a rehearsal at Radio City where each show has an hour with all the cameras and directors to make it look great.
Sunday is a whirlwind. The morning begins by going to the theatre to put on costumes, then the cast is bussed to Radio City for a dress rehearsal at 8 a.m. There is only one chance to rehearse. Afterward they are bussed back to their theatre to perform the matinee, then put on tuxedos and go back for the Tonys Awards.
He recalls feeling really nervous and excited. "It was one of my first national TV opportunities and I was singing a solo." There's a lot that goes into the show and hundreds of people are working on it-all the production assistants, camera crews and stage managers. It's a huge feat that they pull off. Fankhauser appeared on the Tony Awards in 2012 and 2013-the first year at the Beacon Theatre and the second at Radio City. Each Tony year is unique in and of itself, so he felt fortunate to be involved with both seasons.
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, part of the Broadway at Overture Series, is presented in partnership with Broadway Across America.
BEAUTIFUL THE Carole King MUSICAL will run at Overture Center for the Arts Tuesday, June 13th - Sunday June 18th, 2017. Tickets can be purchased at overturecenter.org, in person at the ticket office or by phone at 608.258.4141.