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‘Beautiful’ role: Actress cherishes portraying Carole King in musical

Sarah Bockel as Carole King performing at Carnegie Hall in the musical, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” (Courtesy of Joan Marcus)

Sarah Bockel was up for the challenge when she hit the stage.

Each night, she’s pushed herself to go beyond what she thought was she was capable of.

For four years, Bockel has been living a dream portraying Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” on its national tour.

“It’s been a gift that has changed my life,” Bockel says in an interview from San Francisco. “I feel like by committing to the role, it continues to give me gifts.”

James Clow, Jacob Heimer, Sarah Bockel and Alison Whitehurst work on the song “You’ve Got a Friend.” (Courtesy of Joan Marcus)

The musical, which has won Tony and Grammy awards, tells the true story of King’s rise to stardom – from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband, Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

It follows her path to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in pop music history.

In the latter part of the 20th century, King wrote or co-wrote 118 pop hits.

The musical’s book is written by Douglas McGrath.

The original production of “Beautiful” had its world premiere at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in 2014.

From left, DeAnne Stewart, McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Alexis Tidwell and Marla Louissaint portray the Shirelles. (Courtesy of Joan Marcus)

In January 2014, the production opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway. The same year, the production picked up two Tony Awards, for best leading actress and best sound design.

In 2015, a West End production opened in England, as the U.S. tour was starting.

Bockel has been a part of the production for four years.

“I was really lucky that before I took on the role, I was an understudy,” Bockel says. “I was able to follow in the footsteps of two amazing actresses. I was able to witness them both take ownership of the role in unique ways. That was really freeing, to see that you can really make it your own. The production allows us a lot of freedom, and they never want me to do an impression of Carole. They want it to come from a place where Carole inspires the performance.”

King is behind some of the most memorable songs of the past 60 years.

Sarah Bockel as Carole King and Dylan S. Wallach as Gerry Goffin. (Courtesy of Joan Marcus)

Songs such as “It’s Too Late,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” “Brother, Brother,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Locomotion” are part of the hits that have inspired generations.

Bockel says the songs vary as far as favorites go, but one she enjoys performing each night is “It’s Too Late.”

She also is inspired by King’s struggle within the music industry.

“She had to be persistent,” Bockel says. “There were many obstacles in her way. She was told ‘no’ many times. She got pregnant young and made the best of every moment in her life whether it was good or band. It’s such in inspiring story. To think if she gave up after the first no or obstacle, it would be heartbreaking to not have any of her music.”

King has also made it a point to meet each actress who has been cast to portray her.

Meeting King was a moment that still gets Bockel choked up.

“I couldn’t stop crying, and it was so embarrassing,” she says. “I never thought I would meet her or her see me do the show. She’s so kind and gracious. She held my hand, and she’s so calm. Once she gave me her blessing, it was an honor.”

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