When Carole King and her Broadway alter-ego, actress Jessie Mueller, took the stage separately during the Tony Awards ceremony, they probably succeeded in making lots of viewers feel that down-to-earth is an engaging move.
King, whose music and life story are sung and told in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” went first, introducing a musical number from the show that featured Mueller sitting at a cheap-looking upright piano and coming up with a ballad melody to go with Gerry Goffin’s lyrics to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”
King recalled how she couldn't bear to watch when she tried to attend a rehearsal for the show: “I found some of the most emotional moments of my young life” being portrayed, she said. “It was really hard to watch, so I left. I didn’t even go to the opening. But when I finally got up the courage to go see it, I loved it.”
Soon, King was onstage again, joining her other self as Mueller's rendition of the songwriter's classic, aching ballad of self-doubt upshifted into a rocking “I Feel the Earth Move.”
Not that they don't do ballads: King and Mueller had sung an impromptu “You’ve Got A Friend” at a curtain call in early April when King turned up at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
When Mueller won her evening-capping Tony for best actress in a musical, she appeared in a coffee-and-cream colored gown that skirted gaudiness by a good margin, and spoke in a forthright, unpretentious way that dovetailed perfectly with King’s earlier introduction to the musical number. They were both disarming.
Mueller thanked God first, then her parents: “They’re actors and they raised four kids and sent them all to college,” she said. “It’s true, I’m not making it up.”
Then, directing her thoughts to King, she said, “You’ve taught me so much.” The main life lesson from playing King’s young self, said the 31-year-old actress, was that one could go through tribulations and heartbreaks and “come out of it with kindness and forgiveness and a pure heart.”
"Beautiful" is the second Broadway show for Mueller, who had risen above a poorly received and short-lived 2011 revival of “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.”
Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times’ Steven Zeitchik in the run-up to the Tonys, Mueller, who was being touted as the front-runner in her category, said she didn’t feel motivated to try to stump for votes to clinch the deal: “I’m not sure I’m really comfortable with this whole thing.”
She said she felt a bit like the character she plays. King “had to learn how to be out front,” Mueller noted, after years as the second-billed name in small type to her then-husband Goffin in the songwriting credits of many a hit single for other artists. “And I feel like I’m dealing with something similar in my own way, where my life has changed and my work has changed and there have been these opportunities given to me, and it’s like, 'How do you deal with that and stay the person you are?’”