Melissa Benoist is best known for her roles in television, most notably the two years she spent playing Marley Rose on Glee and her current job in the titular role of the CW’s hit DC Comics adaptation Supergirl. But the Colorado native got her start in theater, and getting back onstage has been a longtime goal — so when the producers of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical reached out to her about temporarily replacing longtime star Chilina Kennedy for a summer stint as King herself, she jumped at the chance at making her Broadway debut.
A week into her run at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre (she’ll be in the show through August 4), Benoist talked to Billboard about her path to Beautiful, the differences between the acting on Broadway and on television, and how she’s essentially been preparing to play King since childhood.
– Congrats on making your Broadway debut! How’s it going so far?
I’m genuinely having the time of my life! Whenever I describe what the past couple weeks has been like, I sound totally and completely like an earnest fool. I really am having so much fun. It’s like a dream come true.
– It seems like you’re certainly living the dream, including getting a backstage visit from Lynda Carter [of Wonder Woman fame] on your opening night.
There are such a small number of us who’ve played female superheroes that I think we all have a kinship. And Lynda, she essentially started it all. She’s a fantastic person and it was so wonderful she came out to support show her support.
– Besides Lynda’s visit, what was your opening night like?
It was equal parts terrifying, surreal and the most joyful I have felt in years. So I went through that gamut of emotions in three hours! I nearly got sick on stage I was so nervous, but towards the end of the show and at the curtain call it felt like that the manifestation of a lot of my childhood dream had come true. It was pretty overwhelming.
– While this is your Broadway debut, I don’t think a lot of people realize that you were very active in regional theater before you became known for your television work.
Right. TV sort of picked up for me before my theater career did.
– What was your initial foray into theater like and what did you learn from it?
I’ve essentially done theater for more of my life than I’ve done television or film, and it’s really something I feel I know better. At that time in my life, it never felt like it was work. It started as a hobby but very quickly turned into my love and what I wanted to do with my life. Getting back into theater is like coming home and I don’t really want to leave (laughs).
– How did the opportunity to step in and replace Chilina Kennedy for the summer come about?
I’ve been looking for a Broadway opportunity ever since I stopped doing theater. It was always something I would say to my agents and my manager. At one point, Beautiful’s producers got the call that Chilina Kennedy, who was playing Carole before me and is coming back, was going to take a hiatus to do a show at the Atlantic Theater Company and needed someone to fill in for her. At the time, I was up in Vancouver shooting Supergirl and not really planning on doing anything during my hiatus between season three and season four. When I caught wind, I immediately knew I had to do it.
– Did you see the show before committing?
No, I hadn’t seen it. Some people thought I was ridiculous for saying yes to something that I didn’t know anything about. All I knew was that Carole’s music and her life story, especially leading up to releasing Tapestry, is incredibly fascinating and inspiring.
– What do you tackle first: the music or the actual lines?
The first thing I did was a music rehearsal with the show’s music director Jason Howland. He actually flew up to Vancouver and we sang through the show. I had time to learn all the music and the piano components before rehearsals even began. And then came the script, lines, staging, and blocking. But first came the music.
– With eight shows a week, how are you keeping your voice in shape?
I think I had forgotten how grueling it is doing eight shows a week and to sing as often as I’m singing. After my first week of shows, I went on Amazon and bought every voice syrup and spray and tea for my throat. It’s lucky that my life outside of work is so mellow; I’m really a homebody and a hermit so I don’t have to worry about blowing my voice out. (Laughs)
– There’s a big difference between being apart of a fast-paced primetime series and a two-hour-plus Broadway production eight shows a week. How did you navigate that transition?
I think learning a show in its entirety is a massive feat to accomplish. For two and a half hours, we’re responsible for telling that story and making sure the audience understands and feels what we want them to feel, and inspire them because of Carole’s story and what she went through. That’s hard, it’s just a lot of material. In television, my experience on a show like Supergirl has its own difficulties because it’s so involved physically and the hours are really long; it’s an all-encompassing schedule where you’re creating something for 42 minute episodes. They demand such different muscles and different skill sets, but I’ve been finding it more fulfilling to learn an entire show and access the story fully in one night.
– Have you connected with the real Carole King since coming to Beautiful?
Only through social media! Every time she does my heart skips a beat. I don’t know if she’s planning on coming to the show, but I don’t want to know if she comes. I’d like to meet her of course but I don’t want to know until after the show!
– She’s had so many hits throughout her career, many of which are in the show. Which are your favorite Carole King songs to sing?
I love “It’s Too Late.” It’s such a groovy, fun, bluesy song to sing. It gives me nostalgia since I relate to it personally. It makes me think of my mom.
– Why is that?
Tapestry was the very first album she ever bought on vinyl when she was 14. Needless to say, [King] was kind of a staple of our household. She’d play it in the car all the time and on the stereo at home, so I knew most of her songs as a kid and have a very personal relationship with them.
– Broadway offers a unique experience by putting you front and center with your fans. What has it been like meeting them after the show?
It’s still such an odd thing for me that I even have fans! I’m just trying to do what I love, telling stories and expressing myself in this way.