Melissa Benoist was raised on Carole King‘s music. When her family went on road trips in the Southwest, each person was given control over the music for an hour. “My dad would play Garth Brooks. The kids would put on Disney soundtracks,” recalls the Colorado native. Her mom always selected Carole King. “When my mother was 14 years old, “Tapestry” was as the very first vinyl she ever bought with her own money,” she shares.
As she grew into an adult, Benoist developed an emotional connection to King’s richly layered lyrics. “Carole is such a good storyteller. She is so emotive and optimistic. Her songs are so encouraging and about love,” says Benoist. “These sentiments are so important to me. Her songs have shaped who I am as a woman.”
Coming full circle, this summer Benoist made her Broadway debut as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. “I love Carole’s inner strength, kindness and warmth. She is so full of love,” she observes. “I also love that she has some sass, chutzpah and pizzazz.”
– What was one of the first times you performed?
I used to perform for my stuffed animals, so that was kind of the first show I ever did. I would dance to Bon Jovi and I had a mullet at the time. So it was pretty entertaining.
– Songs like “Livin’ on a Prayer?”
Yes. And “Wanted, Dead Or Alive.” I think that was the CD my parents had in the stereo. I would just push play and dance to whatever music was in there. I also did ballet recitals. But I think the moment I knew that I wanted to try to make performing my career was in high school. I did professional theater around Denver and dinner theaters. And I loved the community. I loved the rehearsal process. I loved creating something from nothing with people. I loved taking words on a page and putting together this magical little escape for a couple of hours. Then when I did A Chorus Line, that changed the game for me. I was Bebe Benzenheimer and sang “At the Ballet.”
– What went through your mind when you were cast as Carole King in Beautiful?
I was scared. I had not done something like this in a couple of years. But then I watched the show. As I sat in the audience, I let it wash all over me and got really emotional. I was sentimental and nostalgic because of the music. But also I was thinking that I was going to be on the stage doing what Chilina Kennedy [who played King before Benoist] was doing. Telling Carole’s story in this way felt really special.
– Isn’t it incredible to think that Carole King was a teenager when she wrote her first No. 1 hit song?
I could barely take care of myself when I was 17. I don’t know how she did it. There are stories of her going into recording studios with session musicians who were something like 20 years her senior. She was commanding them and running the band, which is awesome.
– On this upcoming season of Supergirl what would you like to happen to Kara?
The thing that is important to me about Kara’s journey as Supergirl is that she is always growing, progressing and becoming more and more empowered as a female. The more feminist our show the better. Kara has a lot of the similar qualities to Carole King like her strength. Kara’s creedo is hope, help and compassion. Whereas Superman’s is truth, justice and the American way. She’s an impossible standard to live up to.