The Tapestry of Carole King’s Life: Threads of Maternal Influence

By Annie Tobey | March 31st, 2017

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical covers the early days of the singer/songwriter’s life and sheds light on those who influenced her, including her mother, Genie Klein

Carole King MusicalThe songs provide the obvious appeal of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which is coming to Richmond, April 25-30. After all, Carole King songs played in the background of baby boomers’ youth, so the melodies and lyrics stir memories and emotions. The Broadway show, however, reveals an inspiring story that further moves and inspires an audience of any age.

The jukebox musical covers the early days of the singer/songwriter’s life: how Carol Klein, a 16-year-old who sold her first song professionally, became Carole King, who sold Tapestry, an album that won five Grammy awards. Along the way, the audience also sees – and hears – the musical transition from the late ’50s to the early ’70s.

The musical also sheds light on many of the people who helped to make Carole King the talented musician and influential woman that she became, including her mother, Genie Klein, who was an accomplished woman in her own right. Actress Suzanne Grodner has been playing the elder Klein since Beautiful began touring the United States in September 2015.

“Genie was a really strong woman,” Grodner told me by phone from Kansas City, Missouri, where Beautiful is currently playing. “She was a single mother raising Carol, very protective in [terms of] wanting the best for her.”

Genie and Carol Klein had a very close relationship. The mother realized that her daughter’s “first love and dream was to be in the music business,” Grodner explained. However, Klein also knew there were no women in the male-dominated music business, so she tried to push the teenager towards an easier career. Klein was tough, but she was loving. “In one sense, she was trying to keep her from the music business. In the other sense, she became Carole’s biggest fan, to protect her and help her along.”

Grodner had the chance to meet Carole King and to talk about King’s mother. In fact, Grodner and King talked about both of their mothers. Both lost their mothers about the same time – Genie died in 2011 at the age of 94. As artists and performers, both Grodner and King could appreciate what their mothers had done to support their careers.

Each time she plays Genie Klein, the actress is reminded of the importance of that support. “When you have the love and support from your mother or father or someone in your family who really believes in you, who sees something special and nurtures that and helps you through the tough times – then you have a soft place to land,” Grodner said. Although King’s mother sometimes provided “a hard place to land” and didn’t mince words, she was always supportive and proud.

Carole’s mother was “her biggest fan,” Grodner said, “and my mom was my biggest fan. So I get it, I know what it means.”

Of meeting the singer, Grodner said, “Carole was the kindest, most humble person you’d ever want to meet.” And what the actress has learned about the musician and her mother inspires her every time she goes on stage.

“I’m proud to tell this story about this incredible woman. And to be able to be her mom – it’s just crazy. I bring our moms out on stage every day. We in this business do a lot of fun things … [but] there is an added layer to this show because we’re telling a story of an icon that is living, that is here in our midst… It’s an honor.”

Grodner called Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, “a very healing show, filled with joy.” As a baby boomer, she can relate to the appeal of the tunes, too, so she offered a suggestion to audience members: “When you see the show, don’t look at the music list. What you want to do is close the playbill, sit back and be surprised by every single song … It’s thrilling to not know. Just let it wash over you.”

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