BWW Interview: Alison Whitehurst of BEAUTIFUL - THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier - Place Des Arts
Alison Whitehurst was born in Sugar Land, Texas. The daughter of a professional pianist, she was exposed to music at a very early age, tagging along and watching her father play gigs from backstage. She would often sit and experiment with him at the piano and played herself for nine years. After her parents divorce, Whitehurst transferred to a new middle school. Her mother recommended she sign up for a theatre class to help her make friends. She was cast in her first musical in eighth grade, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and thought to herself, "wait a second! I'm going to sing AND do this fun new theatre thing at the same time?!" She continued on through high school and never looked back, earning a BFA in Theatre Performance from Texas Christian University. Whitehurst is currently on tour as Cynthia Weil in BEAUTIFUL - THE Carole King MUSICAL. I had the chance to chat with her just prior to the tour's stop in Montreal.
HANNIBAL: Many of our readers are aspiring performers. Tell me a little bit about the audition process for BEAUTIFUL - THE Carole King MUSICAL.
WHITEHURST: It was exhilarating. I feel with every show, the experience is different. My experience with this show was very quick. Surprisingly so. I was working on a different project and received an email from my agent asking if I could go in that Friday to be seen for the cover (understudy) of Cynthia Weil and an ensemble role. I said, "absolutely, I will be there." It was my first time going in to be seen by casting director, Stephen Kopel, so I kind of told myself that I would do my best and no matter what happened, it was good to just go in. It was initially for the Broadway company. I did my audition and Stephen said, "this is great. Thank you so much for coming in. Why haven't I seen you before? Come back for a callback on Monday." I went back on Monday and auditioned for the director and choreographer. They put me on tape to send to the producers. Tuesday night I received an email from my agent. It said, "hey. So the position on Broadway has been filled. But, today they got notice from the woman who is playing the same role on tour. Are you interested in doing that?" I said, "let me talk to my husband! " I called them back the next day and I signed on to cover Cynthia Weil for five months. Toward the end of that contract, they offered for me to return and take over the role. It's just been this whirlwind of growth. Many thanks to my agent and Stephen Kopel for allowing me to be in the room!
HANNIBAL: As you are playing a real, living person, what do you draw on from your own life? What do you have in common with Cynthia?
WHITEHURST: I think the love of the work and the love of the process. Cynthia, being a woman and a go-getter in the late 50s, thought, "how can I write the truest lyrics that really capture true, human emotion?" She wasn't concerned with whether or not people would listen to them. She was just devoted to the work and the work made her happy. If people listened to it, great. I would say that on my best day, I do pretty well about being mostly focused on the work and not caring about what people say. So there is this nice tension of following her example in that way, but also, I get a lot of comfort in just doing good work. If I can commit myself to doing the best I can and honouring the work, not how it is received, then I am in my happiest place.
HANNIBAL: If you could give me a one word description about Cynthia, what would it be?
WHITEHURST: She's gutsy, but she's also sophisticated. I don't know if there is one word that captures both of those. She just goes for what she wants, but there is so much panache to it. How's that for one word?!
HANNIBAL: How long have you been on tour?
WHITEHURST: We had ten weeks off in the middle, so if we count from when I joined to now, it's just over a year. My one year anniversary was January 16. My current contract is through June 30.
HANNIBAL: Do you have a favourite city that you have visited on tour?
WHITEHURST: I really enjoyed Chicago. It was my first city. I found an incredible blues club out that all the locals went to. My husband was with me. It was just a true picture of what Chicago is like. It was bitter cold, but there was wonderful food. I was very taken with Cloud Gate. I did a lot of exploring. It was really my first time doing this much travel and getting to see a new city on my own. It was very special to me. Everyone I speak to who has been to Montreal, raves about Montreal. I can't wait to go and my husband will be joining me there, as well!
HANNIBAL: Of all of the roles you have played, what would you say is your favourite role or roles?
WHITEHURST: I honestly have to say Cynthia is my absolute favourite. A close second would be April in COMPANY.
HANNIBAL: Do you have a dream role?
WHITEHURST: I would love to play Glinda in WICKED. I think that would be a blast. I would also love to play Audrey in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Clara in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. I would really love to originate new work. I feel like that is such a cop out answer, but I love new work. I have gotten to be a part of some readings that have gotten legs. It's always great to see something in it's embryonic state then take shape.
HANNIBAL: Is there anything else you would like our BroadwayWorld readers to know about you?
WHITEHURST: I would just like to thank them for coming and supporting the theatre. I think it's a really special art form that allows everybody in that space to exchange something. It's not just us giving to the audience. The audience is giving back to us. Their response and their involvement shapes and influences our show. It's a special communal experience and I just want to say, "thank you for coming and being a part of it."
BEAUTIFUL = THE Carole King MUSICAL tells the inspiring true story of King's remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history. Along the way, she made more than beautiful music, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation.
Featuring a stunning array of beloved songs written by Gerry Goffin/Carole King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil, including "I Feel The Earth Move," "One Fine Day," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," "You've Got A Friend" and the title song, BEAUTIFUL has a book by Tony® Award-nominee and Academy® Award-nominated writer Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni, choreography by Josh Prince and took home two 2014 Tony® Awards and the 2015 Grammy® for Best Musical Theater Album.
BEAUTIFUL - THE Carole King MUSICAL runs February 12-17, 2019 at Place des Arts, Salle Wilfred-Pelltier, 175 Saint-Catherine St W, Montreal.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://beautifulonbroadway.com/tour