On the Town

Long Live the King—Carole King

At the Hobby Center, a revered singer-songwriter’s early years take center stage.

By Steve Jansen May 31, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Abby Mueller as Carole King, Liam Tobin as Gerry Goffin

Image: Joan Marcus

Most people know Carole King’s Tapestry—or should. The 1971 record held the title of longest-running number one album by a female artist for two decades. Less known is the fact that King wrote or co-wrote more than a hundred hits for other artists.

Liam Tobin, who portrays King’s talented yet troubled husband Gerry Goffin in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, now making its local debut at the Hobby Center, tells us he was blown away to discover the songbook the duo amassed during the ’60s, prior to King’s solo successes.

“One of the journeys the audience goes through … is hearing all of the songs that Gerry and Carole wrote for other artists before Carole was ever Carole King,” says Tobin, referring to her birth name, Carol Joan Klein. Among the couple’s collaborations are “The Loco-Motion,” “Up on the Roof,” “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”

“They were writing hits for all of these groups. A lot of people know all of those songs, too, and they’re sitting there going, ‘They wrote that?’” Toronto-based Tobin says about the two-act musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2014 and took home two Tony awards and a Grammy.

The work, set in the late 1950s and early ’60s, tells the story of King’s early life and career, recounting how she and Goffin met at New York’s Queens College, married, and built a prolific partnership—until 1968, when they divorced. The brutal breakup, which included infidelity and a meltdown that forced Goffin to the hospital, plays out on stage.

“He wants so desperately to be a good husband and a good friend, but he makes a lot of these mistakes,” says Tobin. “And it kind of tears him up inside and sends him a little further down the rabbit hole.”

Goffin, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with King in 1990, went on to write Billboard hits for Diana Ross and Whitney Houston, but never achieved the success of King’s singer-songwriter albums Tapestry, Music and Really Rosie. He died in 2014 at the age of 75.

King, now 74, has shunned the spotlight her entire life. “If you went back on the last 40 years, you might find seven interviews of Carole King,” says Tobin. She did, however, see Beautiful when the show came through Boston. In disguise.

King’s enduring mystery has contributed to the musical’s popularity. “I think a lot of people don’t know a lot about her perseverance and drive. A lot of stuff happens to her that would make a lot of people throw in the towel,” says Tobin. “She keeps going and pushes through on her own when she has to, and makes her own way.”

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