Even though they have never met, Carole King played a key role in Melissa Benoist’s life. When the Colorado native took road trips with her family in the Southwest, each person was given command over the music for an hour. “My dad would play Garth Brooks. The kids would put on Disney soundtracks,” recalls Benoist. And her mom always choose her beloved 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 a little girl, Benoist learned King’s music. But as she grew into an adult, she developed an emotional connection to her rich layered lyrics. “Carole is such a good story teller. She is so emotive and optimistic. Her songs are so encouraging and about love,” says Benoist. “These sentiments are so important to me. They have shaped who I am as a woman.”
Coming full circle, Benoist, who currently stars in the title role of Supergirl on The CW, just made her Broadway debut as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. She will play a limited run through August. “I love Carole’s inner strength, kindness and warmth. I have not met her, but you can just tell,” she observes. “I also love that she has some sass, chutzpah and pizzazz.”
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.
It is incredible to think that Carole King was 17 when she wrote her first number one 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.
What was one of the first shows you performed in?
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.
Did you rock out to “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 just 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. When I did A Chorus Line, that changed the game for me. I was Bebe Benzenheimer and sang “At the Ballet.”
What was some of the best advice that you have received?
I have gotten a lot of good advice from wonderful people. What I am constantly trying to tell myself and wish I could have told myself years ago was to just have fun. Don’t take things so seriously. I am so lucky to get to do this for a living. TV and musicals are meant to bring joy. When I let go of preconceived ideas of how people might be judging me, when I feel good about what I put out there, that is when I’m most proud of my work.
For example, I did a musical called The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown at Goodspeed Opera House. The music was difficult for me to sing and I was really self-conscious and nervous. Then I had a moment where I thought, I have got to let it all go and perform. The second I did that, I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. If it’s a sad, intimate or even happy moment, I think of riding the ride of the story I am telling. If I do this rather than focus on how the performance is received, it’s the best way to tell the story.
Jeryl’s book, My City, My New York:Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places, where hundreds of notables share their favorite NYC locales, can be found here. Visit jerylbrunner.com.