Interview: Sarah Bockel talks taking on Carole King in “Beautiful”

Tony-winning musical makes Montreal Premiere at Place des Arts February 12-17, 2019

Sarah Bockel stars as Carole King in the North American touring production of “Beautiful” (Photo: Joan Marcus)

This February for a limited one-week engagement, Broadway Across Canada and evenko co-present the Montreal premiere of the Tony® award-winning Beautiful – The Carole King Musical at Place des Arts.

Featuring a book by Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince, the musical recounts the inspiring life and career of the music legend in her remarkable rise to superstardom. Interweaving over two dozen chart-topping classics by the songstress (including “You’ve Got a Friend”, “One Fine Day”, “Up on the Roof”, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, and “Natural Woman”), this international phenomenon is filled with the tunes you remember – and a story you’ll never forget.

Spearheading the North American touring company as Carole King is SARAH BOCKEL – who, in anticipation of her centre stage appearance in Montreal, here shares her own extraordinary success story. Read our interview below.

Sarah Bockel as Carole King in “Beautiful” (Photo: Joan Marcus)

“‘It’s Too Late’ from the 1971 album Tapestry
on her favourite Carole King song

MONTREAL THEATRE HUB (MTH): You’ve had a most thrilling journey from your beginnings in Chicago: first, performing in the ensemble of Beautiful on Broadway; then, understudying the title role on the Great White Way; and now, leading the national touring company of the show. How did these opportunities of a lifetime progressively come to you?

SARAH BROCKEL: I got really lucky. Back in 2014 a talent agent (who is also now my current agent) came to see a show that I was in and believed that I would be a good fit for Beautiful. I initially sent in an audition tape and about six months later I got invited to go to New York City for an in-person audition. After a few more trips back to New York, I was eventually offered the ensemble role of Betty and the Carole understudy gig. It was wild to me – especially for a non-union, unrepresented actor in Chicago. Everything just took off from there.

MTH: The specificity required to successfully personify (but not impersonate) such an iconic real-life figure can be no easy feat. How did you prepare for the part as an actor?

SARAH: I watched pretty much every Youtube video of Carole that I could find – interviews, live performances, etc. I also read her memoir, A Natural Woman. However, my greatest resource in my preparation was actually Abby Mueller, who I was lucky enough to have understudied for a year. There’s no way I would have been able to do this role without first learning from her. I then also had the privilege of understudying Julia Knitel for six months, who had a very different but equally beautiful take on the part. When I eventually took over for Julia, I genuinely felt that I was ready and that I was the best person for the job because I had had so much time to watch these incredible women do the show day after day. That observation period was a huge part of my prep.

Four Friends in “Beautiful” (Photo: Joan Marcus)

“I most enjoy the private little moments, like the laughs I get with my cast mates when something goes wrong. There’s this doorknob on our set, for example, that always seems to be falling off, and we recently had a performance where everyone except the actor playing Gerry had been told that the door wasn’t working again that night. At some point he tries to open it, but he eventually gives up and walks around it to enter the scene. It was a minor flub that the audience probably didn’t notice, but that made us laugh on stage with one each other.”

on favourite moments on stage

MTH: Are there any unique aspects of your own personality that you feel you bring to the role?

SARAH: I feel fortunate in that I have actually been able to bring a lot of myself to the part. Our casting director, Stephen Kopel, does an incredible job of casting all of the Caroles. While we all certainly have similar qualities, we’re definitely not cookie-cutter, and the creative team has been great in allowing our own personalities to come through in our individual performances.

Personally, I feel like I’ve been able to bring a lot of humour to the role in the way of making jokes and laughing at myself. It’s neat to be able to try out a new joke and watch it grow once we get a reaction. Sometimes it goes too far and we get pulled back, but it’s nice to just have that freedom to try things. It’s also been cool to be able to use my own insecurities to my advantage in this show because Carole herself is so insecure. She goes through this process of self-discovery and of developing self-trust, and it’s almost like I’m having a parallel journey in a small way.

MTH: Is there anything in particular that you have learned about yourself – either as an artist or a person – through the experience of portraying Carole?

SARAH: Working on Beautiful is an absolute blessing in that it’s been such a huge growth experience for me. I think the most important thing I’ve learned, though, is how strong I can be. I’ve gotten up on stage and performed through a lot of pain – physical and emotional – and proved that I can work through exhaustion, stress, sickness, and injury. I’ve become more trusting in myself by knowing what my body can and can’t handle and I just feel like I’ve gotten to know myself a whole lot better by travelling and doing this show eight times a week. I certainly never though I would have had the stamina to do it.

I mean, being on tour is extremely exciting. It is, truly, the best job ever. But it’s hard having to go to an airport every week and packing and unpacking all your stuff all the time. You learn to appreciate the little conveniences that so many people take for granted – like knowing where the closest grocery store is, having access to a doctor, or finding the time to exercise or to cook for yourself. It’s a challenge, but it really makes you travel savvy and a lot more mindful of the small things.

Sarah Bockel as Carole King in “Beautiful” (Photo: Joan Marcus)

“Sometimes it’s fun when the audience is actually in on the laugh, too. There was one time last year where my wig got stuck on my friend’s dress; she kept trying to pull it off her button, but it was too late – I’m laughing, she’s laughing, and the audience is laughing. It was kind of embarrassing but I also really loved that moment of everyone realizing that this was just a play and that we were all just here to have a good time.”

– on embarrassing moments on stage

MTH: You’ve been playing Carole for nearly four years now. What motivates or inspires you to keep it fresh every time?

SARAH: The audience, definitely. On days when I’m feeling tired or ill for whatever reason, all it takes is a big reaction to wake me up and snap me back to what I need to be doing. I then remember that most of these people are watching this for the first (and only) time and I begin to see the show through their eyes. Knowing someone in the audience can also be extremely motivating.

Also, the circumstances are constantly changing when you’re on tour, which helps keep things fresh. Every week or so you’re in a new city and a new venue. Occasionally an understudy will go on or someone will join the company, and it’s exciting to connect with different people on stage. Even the smallest details such as getting a new costume piece or realizing that my wig has just been washed gives me a sense of renewed energy. I assumed that things would get stale by now, but I love that this has not yet become boring for me.

MTH. How do you feel Beautiful is relevant in this day and age? What are some of the messages and themes of this show that you hope will resonate with audiences?

SARAH: People can look at Beautiful from a shallow perspective and come to the preconception that “it’s just another jukebox musical”. Having the privilege of being a part of this show in the age of the #MeToo and the #TimesUp movements, I can say it’s become so much more than about the music of an icon. This is the story of a woman who thrived in adversity and who refused to give up despite the major challenges she faced in life. It really is an inspiring story for everyone, but especially for women in this second wave of feminism.

There’s a line at the beginning of the show that I really like that goes as follows: “Sometimes life goes the way you want, and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes when it doesn’t… you find something ‘Beautiful’.” Carole King used the setbacks in her life to her advantage, making a positive of the negative. There’s so much in life that’s out of our control, and the only way to really get through it is by seeing obstacles as opportunities. She’s an example to us all.

Interview conducted, written and edited by Camila Fitzgibbon. This interview has been edited for purposes of clarity and length.

SARAH BOCKEL (Carole King) is thrilled to be back on the road with her Beautiful family! Broadway/First National Tour: Beautiful; Betty/Ensemble. Regional: Million Dollar Quartet (Chicago); u/s Dyanne. Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre- Les Mis; Madame Thenardier. Shrek; Dragon. Select Chicago credits: Bohemian Theatre Ensemble; Parade, Lucille (Non-eq Jeff nomination) The Hypocrites; Into the Woods, Cinderella/ Rapunzel. Haven Theatre; The Wedding Singer, Holly. Paramount Theatre; Fiddler on the Roof, ensemble. Illinois Wesleyan University SoTA Alum. Proudly represented by Stewart Talent Chicago. Many thanks to the Beautiful creative team and her superhero agents Jim and Sam. As always, for Mom and Dad.

Montreal Performance Schedule
Tuesday, February 12 at 8pm 
Wednesday, February 13 at 8pm
Thursday, February 14 at 8pm
Friday, February 15 at 8pm
Saturday, February 16 at 2pm and 8pm
Sunday, February 17 at 2pm and 7:30pm

Place des Arts – Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
175 Saint-Catherine Street, Montreal, H2X 1Y9

Tickets on sale at the Place des Arts Box Office
By phone: 1 866 842-2112
Order online: 
Tickets start at $45.85 (including taxes and service fees)

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