Why Grace is in favour to play Carole King in York Stage’s Beautiful musical at Grand Opera House as Lancaster returns to York

Grace Lancaster at the piano in the role of Carole King in York Stage’s York premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

FEEL the earth move as Beautiful: The Carole King arrives in York for the first time tomorrow in York Stage’s production at the Grand Opera House.

“This Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical phenomenon is filled with the songs you remember – and a story you’ll never forget,” says director-producer Nik Briggs, introducing the Broadway and West End hit with a book by Douglas McGrath and those songs. Oh, those songs.

“She created the sound of a generation, so iconic,” says Nik.” “Those songs have then passed through the generations because they’re so relatable, especially on Tapestry, after her break-up with Gerry Goffin.”

Will You Love Me Tomorrow?. Take Good Care Of My Baby. It Might As Well Rain Until September. Up On The Roof. One Fine Day. So Far Away. You’ve Got A Friend. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. It’s Too Late. I Feel The Earth Move. All by the writer or co-writer of 118 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100. The most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the United States.

Beautiful tells the story of an ordinary girl, born Carole Klein in Manhattan, New York, with an extraordinary talent that took her from being part of a songwriting team with fellow teenager and later husband Gerry Goffin, through her creative relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to solo success with Tapestry and beyond.

Taking the role of Carole King, opposite Frankie Bounds’ Gerry Goffin, will be York-born actress and singer, New York Brass Band saxophonist and Leeds Conservatoire teacher Grace Lancaster.

“With her voice, her stage presence and her musicality, Grace was the perfect choice to lead our cast of 30,” says Nik. “Grace is 28 now but she’s always had that Carole King girlish charm, so it’s great to watch her charting that same path in Carole’s story.

“We’ll have an 11-piece band on stage, plus Grace on piano, with Stephen Hackshaw returning as our musical director.”

Grace is “really looking forward to the show this week…if a little nervous about the magnitude of the role”. “I’ve grown up with the songs of Carole without even knowing that she was the mastermind behind the music,” she says.

“Everyone knows Natural Woman and The Loco-Motion, right, but I didn’t quite realise that she had written them until I saw Beautiful in the West End back in 2015.

“I was at drama school at the time, and Katie Brayben (who was then Carole King) had just won the Olivier award for her portrayal and I was acutely aware that she’d trained on the very same course as me at Rose Bruford!

“Watching that performance blew me away so much and I felt such a connection that I knew one day I would just have to play Carole King!” 

Assessing what makes Carole King’s songs and life story so apt for a musical that is much more than a jukebox musical, Grace says: “Carole was in a golden era for songwriting. She was a young teenager when the one and only Elvis Presley came on the scene and was inevitably drawn to the rock’n’roll style. That type of music connects to a lot of people!

“The way Carole writes melodies is so organic and she often describes the music as just coming through her without her having to think. When music comes from a place of truth then there is something very Beautiful about it (no pun intended).

“I felt such a connection that I knew one day I would just have to play Carole King,” says Grace Lancaster

“The story weaves through Carole’s life and gives us an insight into how these songs were written in a ‘music factory’, the events that inspired them and how they reflect Carole’s life at that time.

“The fact that you’re watching a story that is about real people gives the musical a more personal feel and hopefully the audience will connect with this more than a regular jukebox musical.”

Picking a favourite Carole King song is almost like picking a favourite child, reckons Grace. “From what I’ve read, she’s written over 400 songs! You’ve Got A Friend and Will You Love Me Tomorrow? have popped up in other shows I’ve performed in, so I feel a deep connection to those,” she says.

“But Natural Woman is another strong contender: the gospel chords and the superb imagery make the song an utter delight to perform. These songs are multi-generational, passed on, still relevant today, and that’s another reason why Carole is such a wonder.”

Preparing for Beautiful has been the biggest challenge of Grace’s performing career. “I don’t think there’s a single point in the show where I have time to go back to my dressing room and sit down,” she says.

“A lot of work has gone into memorising the script, but even more time has gone into memorising the piano parts. As a musician, I would describe myself as a saxophone/clarinet player first; piano doesn’t come as naturally to me. So practising the piano to the point where my hands know what they’re doing without my brain getting involved – my brain needs to focus on acting/singing – has been the challenge of the last three months.”

Grace spent time aplenty researching Carole King’s story. “I read her memoir and watched interviews and have been delighted to find so many similarities in our beliefs and musical habits. She truly is an incredible woman,” she says. 

Rehearsals have been an “amazing way” for Grace to reconnect with her York roots. “I first performed with York Stage back in 2007 in We Will Rock You, so I’m so delighted to see that the theatre scene is as strong here as it is!” she says. “The cast are all very talented and play such an important role in this show, so I’m very proud to have them supporting me.”

Out of rehearsals, Grace fills her time with an eclectic mix of work. “I play the saxophone and assist with managing the New York Brass Band, which has taken me as far away as China and Kuwait and this summer to Glastonbury festival for the fifth time!” she says.

“Last year I started teaching on the Actor Musicianship course at Leeds Conservatoire and I’m thrilled to be able to see the talent and drive that these students have – but also to be a part of the theatre industry in the north who are nurturing talent outside of London.”

Looking ahead, over the next few months Grace will be developing her own business as a solo singer/saxophone player at weddings and events. “I’m also looking after my four-month-old Labrador puppy Winnie. So I’ve definitely got my hands full!” she says. “Winnie has been subjected to my constant piano practice since moving in with us and now the music of Carole King sends her to sleep.”

York Stage in York premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, September 15 to 23, 7.30pm except Sunday and Monday; 2.30pm Saturday matinees; 4pm, Sunday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.

One last question

DO you have Tapestry in your record collection, if such a thing as a record collection still exists in the house of Lancaster?!

“Tapestry is regularly played on my Spotify account,” says Grace.

Copyright of The Press, York