While Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga may be the current champions for writing hits, Carole King held the title of the most successful female songwriter in the latter half of the 20th Century. In total 118 of her compositions charted on the Billboard 100.
I’ve been writing songs most of my life, and I have yet to land on the Billboard 100. She had 118 songs on the charts. That’s amazing.
You might not even realize some of your favorite songs were penned by King. Her hits include “You’ve Got a Friend”, “I Feel the Earth Move”, “Natural Woman”, “So Far Away”, and “Beautiful.”
It is that last song from which the Broadway musical based on the songwriter’s life takes its title from: “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Jessica Fisch is the talented director brought on by Marriott Theatre to bring the Carole King musical to its theatre-in-the-round space in Lincolnshire.
I make no effort to hide the fact that I am a big fan of what they do at Marriott Theatre. I am always amazed at the ability of their talented directors and choreographers to translate big musicals designed for proscenium stages to their intimate space. And the music direction has never disappointed. In fact, it’s pretty much always spectacular.
For this week’s episode of It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee I sat down with the very congenial and engaging director Jessica Fisch to find out a little bit more about her production of “Beautiful”. Now running through December 31, he musical has been a home run with Chicago theatre critics.
Around the Town Chicago calls Jessica’s direction extraordinary, while Chicago Theatre Review calls it “pure theatrical joy.” Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune calls it “one of Marriott’s biggest hits.”
I see the show in the coming week, so be sure to check Life and Times for that full reaction to the grand spectacle of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at Marriott.
I am someone who is always fascinated by the casting process. Each company handles casting differently. Some use a casting director as a primary decision-maker. Others use a casting director for advice and options. Often what the artistic director of the production looks for also is indicative of a certain style.
There are directors who want a fresh piece of clay that they can mold. They are put off by actors who come into the audition process having already made key character choices. Then, there are others, who look for the opposite. They want the finished product to walk in the door ready to go on stage.
As an actor, it’s interesting to have worked with both types of directors. I spent years doing nothing but “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and “West Side Story.” It was one production after another; one town after another. These weren’t theatres looking for me to create a new character each time. They were hiring me because I had a character developed that they knew would work.
On the flip side, I did a production of “Camelot” where the exact opposite was desired. I was used to getting my materials ahead of time and starting rehearsals ready to go with my lines memorized. In this case, the director asked that I not study the script or the music ahead of time. She wanted to develop the character together organically.
Those are just two approaches, there are countless factors that go into casting. I guess that’s why it fascinates me. What does this particular director want? It’s a totally arbitrary decision-making process and it’s one of the most important parts of putting on a show. With the wrong actor in a role, you’re in for a whopping hell of a time.
For this production, Jessica had a very clear image of what she wanted and she found it in Kaitlyn Davis, who previously played the title role in the First National Tour as well as in other regional produtions. From what I hear, she is absolutely spectacular – like it’s the role she was born to play.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few signature roles like that – roles I could slip on like a tailored suit. It made for a different kind of career, rewarding in its own special way. To know a role so intimately makes it a treat to go to work every day.
The supporting cast is pretty enticing too. It includes Andrew Mueller, Erica Stephan, Justin Albinder, Janet Ulrich Brooks, and Lawrence Grimm. Incidentally, Erica Stephan is a previous guest on It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee regarding her Jeff Award-winning role as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” at Porchlight Theatre.
On the subject of “Beautiful”, during our interview, director Jessica Fisch really pulls back the curtain and invites us in to understand her approach to casting and to other aspects of directing. I can tell you that partnership with her design team is a big factor in how this highly heralded director brings her projects to the stage.
I won’t give away all of Jessica’s tricks. You’ll have to listen to hear the full scoop. But, you’ll enjoy it. And, you’ll learn in the process. If you’ve never listened to an episode of It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee and you’re a theatre buff, this is a good one to start with. If you’re already a listener, you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve never seen “Beautiful” before, but I am looking forward to it. Marriott always does outstanding work, and based upon my conversation with Jessica, I anticipate this production is something extra special. I am prepared to be dazzled and I think by the time you get done listening to our interview, you’ll be hankering for tickets too.
If you want to jump to the commitment phase right away and get the best seats possible, go to www.MarriottTheatre.com or call the box office at (847) 634-0200.
And when you order tickets, be sure to drop my name. They won’t give you a discount or anything, but they’ll know you have great taste.
To listen to It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee on Spotify visit:
As I like to say on It’s Showtime, we’ll see you in the spotlight.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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