5 Questions With Vanessa Carlton, Beautiful's Latest Carole King

Carlton has one month left on Broadway — which means her daughter has one month left to play with her Broadway wigs.

Vanessa Carlton has hit the halfway mark of her Broadway debut at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, where she's starring as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical through September 1. It seems like a natural fit for a celebrated singer-songwriter to play another celebrated singer-songwriter, but there's more to channeling the legendary King than simply being at ease behind a piano. Read our five questions with Carlton below to hear about her continuous character development, her most coveted Carole King lyric, and perhaps some Broadway aspirations for the future.

Vanessa Carlton stars as Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway through September 1 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
Vanessa Carlton stars as Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway through September 1.
(© Joan Marcus)

1. You, like Carole King, are a piano-playing singer-songwriter. What has been the most challenging part of stepping out from behind the piano to sing?

I feel comfortable getting out from behind the piano and just being onstage. I started as a ballet dancer so I used to feel funny if something wasn't choreographed for me to do, but over time I've learned to just really exist in my body and be natural.

2. What vocal or physical mannerism of Carole King's has been the most helpful to lean into as you figure out how to play her?

What I've studied the most is who Carole is. Her early childhood. Particularly her relationship with her father and what happened to her brother. I think those relationships led her to be someone who wants to make everything OK. Not in a naive way. She is a problem solver. She is an empath. And what I love the most is that she wants to find the joy in a situation, in a person, in a song. She is a genius on top of all of this, so she has this ability to actually help heal people through her work. Her sensitivity and ability to regulate her own feelings makes her deep and wise. But she has breaking points and huge emotion at times, just like any human. Her trying to manage caring for a husband with mental illness while she had two young children must have been incredibly difficult. I play her with a combination of strength and compassion.

3. Beautiful largely follows Carole's journey toward finding her own unique musical voice. What has contributed the most to that discovery in your own career?
I think it's a combination of self-possession and being able to communicate better. As you really sink into yourself and learn who you are and what you want to say, you become a better artist. That takes many failures and forks in the road before you start choosing the right path and becoming humble. Quieting the ego and starting to see the gifts in others around you is huge. And the communication part is imperative because any individual is nothing without a support team. Learning how to ask for what you want in a kind way and seeing the gifts in others will lead to a strong musical voice in yourself.

4. Pick one lyric from a Carole King song you wish you'd written yourself.
"I Feel the Earth Move." It's my daughter's favorite song. It is completely magical to her. That's because it is magic.

5. If you had to choose one other Broadway show to star in after finishing your run in Beautiful, which would it be?
I would love to be part of the inception of a show — to hone a role and be able to present it to the world. It's a ton of work and focus. But to be able to bring my spirit to this role and connect to so many people? It's addictive. I feel so much purpose and would love to revisit this feeling again. Broadway is unlike anything I've ever done. I will never forget this. And my kid is obsessed with my wigs.

Vanessa Carlton stars as Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway through September 1 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
Vanessa Carlton previewing her Broadway debut performance at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

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