Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is coming to Leeds Grand Theatre in May/June this year. I got access to an interview with Bronte Barbe, who is set to play Carole King in the upcoming tour…
What are you most enjoying about playing Carole King in the UK tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical?
The songs! The music is amazing; it’s just the best. I haven’t played a part like this in my career so far. I also love how everyone in the company on tour with us is so nice; it’s a big family feel, which is lovely.
Were you familiar with Carole King’s work prior to joining the show?
Yeah I was. I’ve had Tapestry for years actually. When I first got a record player I bought it because my Mum said, “you have to get this album it’s amazing”, but I didn’t realise until listening to it just how many songs that I already knew were actually written by Carole King. Then I saw the show in the West End and realised there are loads and loads of songs I was pleasantly surprised to know, but had no idea were written by her. So many of her songs have filtered into my head without me knowing through the TV or radio.
Was there something in particular that drew you to the role of Carole King?
She is so determined, particularly as a woman starting out in the time she did, working in the industry she did. She knew what she wanted, so worked hard and went out and got it, which makes her very inspirational. However, she is also a very relatable character I think.
What kind of differences did you encounter in developing your performance of a real person rather than a fictional character?
It was all very different to anything I’ve ever done before. I was listening to her music constantly obviously, but I didn’t want to do an impression. I wanted to work on an interpretation of her because there’s no way to impersonate her, she’s so iconic and her sound is so lodged in people’s minds. So I wanted to stay as true to her as possible but without doing an impression.
Whilst Carole King’s music will be familiar to many people, her life story may not be. What do you think makes it so engaging and perfect for the stage?
I think because it’s so relatable really. Everybody knows a Carole essentially, or is a Carole maybe and wants things she wanted – like to have a family and be successful in her career. She never set out to become famous but her talent and ambition meant that whilst she might be quite ordinary in some ways, she has an extraordinary story. There’s a big draw to it.
What is it like to portray a character through so many moments throughout their life?
There’s so much depth to it you know, as she’s a real person. We meet her in the show at age 16 and go up to 29 and it’s been interesting because you want to be bouncy and young at the start but you don’t want to be playing her as a stereotypical teenager. Physically it can be a bit of a challenge as you have to grow and mature in your performance each night, but you have 2-hours to do it. It’s a lot in the body, and in the voice to give her that maturity. I’m almost at the age she is at the end of the show, and as you grow older your voice changes but also the weight of what was going on in her life at the time affects you in so many different ways so I try to bear that in mind in my performance.
Do you have a favourite number to perform?
I do. Beautiful, I love it so much it’s my absolute favourite. Even if I’m really tired, I get to Beautiful and I’m filled with energy again. I love the way it’s set and orchestrated with the band and then building the backing vocals. It’s such an empowering moment on stage and you can’t beat it. I feel like a bit of a rock star! I think sometimes it can take the audience by surprise as a lot of people might not know it as well as some of her other songs, but the lyrics are so great and it is so uplifting I can see almost an intake of breath and people instantly warm to it.
The tour stops in Leeds, does this venue have any significance for you?
Oh I love Leeds. I was there with Shrek and it’s such a great city. I’ve got a lot of family in Yorkshire so hopefully I’ll be able to see my family whilst we are there.