Carole King has sort of taken over Sarah Bockel’s life.
Bockel plays the singer/songwriter in “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical,” which Broadway in Tucson brings to Centennial Hall Oct. 4-8.
Bockel has been immersed in King’s life since the musical opened on Broadway in 2014. She was first an ensemble member, became a stand-in for the actress playing King, and now plays King herself. When the show went on the road in 2015, Bockel traveled with it. And she’s still traveling with it.
“I toured for 18 months,” says Bockel in a phone interview from her Chicago home while the production was on a short hiatus.
“Then I took a break for six months.”
She rejoined the tour in early September.
The opportunity to once again slip into the skin of King was a welcomed one.
“She’s an amazing woman; she stays true to herself,” says Bockel. “That’s what’s exciting about doing her musical — it’s universal, but it’s still her, it’s who she is. She’s kind and gracious and loving.”
“Beautiful” covers King’s life from the ages of 16 to 28. Those were big years for her:
- She left home in 1958 with hopes of making it in Manhattan’s music world. She was just 16, and her mother was not terribly happy.
- At 17, she met and married Gerry Goffin, and they become one of the top songwriting teams in the country — a trained pianist, she wrote the music and he the lyrics. Their first big break was with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by the Shirelles in 1960. It quickly rose up the charts.
- And the hits kept coming. Among them: The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” recorded by the Monkees, and the classic “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman,” which Aretha Franklin made a mega-hit.
- Goffin’s wandering eye led to a divorce.
- King moved to Los Angeles. Though she had always been reluctant to sing, and was not yet a seasoned lyricist, she was encouraged by her friend James Taylor.
- The result: “Tapestry,” which won multiple Grammys and became one of the best-selling albums of all time.
By now, Bockel could likely do the King role in her sleep. But that’s not her style.
“You can find a lot of new stuff in the character, you bring in more detail,” she says.
And there’s another reason she doesn’t do it by rote: “You have to remember it’s the audience’s first time, and that helps.”
Her voice is generally different than King’s, but she tweaks it so that the essence is there.
“My voice is typically higher than her’s,” she says. “But when the audiences come to the show, they want to hear Carole King. I like to mimic her vowel sounds, I make it a little throatier.”
While many of King’s hits are in the play, Bockel does have a favorite: “Beautiful.” “But before ‘Beautiful’ it was ‘It’s Too Late,’ my break-up song.”