‘Jukebox musical’ will bring ‘Beautiful’ memories to the Benedum

‘Jukebox musical’ will bring ‘Beautiful’ memories to the Benedum

Ben Fankhauser plays songwriter Barry Mann in “Beautiful.”
(Photo provided by Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)
Ben Fankhauser plays songwriter Barry Mann in “Beautiful.” (Photo provided by Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

The first time Ben Fankhauser heard “The Loco-Motion,” he was dancing to the tune with his fourth-grade Sunday school class at his synagogue in his hometown of Cleveland.

Now, 16 years later and on tour with “Beautiful — the Carole King Musical” playing songwriter Barry Mann, Fankhauser hears that song every night. And that’s just fine with the 25-year-old actor who made his Broadway debut in 2012 in the Disney musical “Newsies.”

“I’m proud to be playing an iconic music legend and carrying on this tradition of music and such a triumphant story,” Fankhauser said in an interview. “And I can’t wait to come to Pittsburgh and wow the audience.”

“Beautiful,” which will open at the Benedum on Oct. 27 and run through Nov. 1, is part of the PNC Broadway Across America-Pittsburgh series, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Broadway Across America and the Pittsburgh Symphony.  

The show tells the true story of King’s rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband, Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming a successful solo act.

“Beautiful” begins in the period of the early rock-and-roll era of the 1950s and 1960s, a time of prolific creativity for many Jewish songwriters, including King, Goffin, Mann and Weil.

They all worked in the Brill Building at Aldon Music in New York City, alongside other Jewish musicians who were to become legends, such as Don Kirshner, Neil Sedaka, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

Although he shares a common Jewish heritage with Mann, Fankhauser said he only channels that heritage “in a stereotypical way” when portraying him.

“He kind of reminds me of my grandfather,” Fankhauser said. “He’s hilarious. He just says it like it is. And he is a hypochondriac. I see those character traits in a lot of my family.”

The loving relationship of Mann and Weil told in “Beautiful” is a welcome contrast to the storyline of the turbulent marriage of King and Goffin, according to Fankhauser.

“The Barry and Cynthia storyline is so fun and light and uplifting,” he said.

Although he has not yet met Mann, Fankhauser does have a familial connection to the songwriter. A cousin on his mother’s side, songwriter Allee Willis

(theme song from “Friends”), breaks the Yom Kippur fast with Mann and Weil each year, along with other Jewish songwriters, in California.

As for King, Fankhauser happened to meet her at a gala at Lincoln Center shortly after he was cast as Mann for the touring production of “Beautiful.”

When he told her of his role, “She said, ‘Oh, no. You’ll have to hear my songs every night,’” Fankhauser recalled.

The show accurately captures King’s essence, he said.

“She is a strong woman,” he said, “but she is modest, and humble, and a little self-deprecating, and wounded. But the story is one of perseverance and passion and the ability to keep going.”

“Beautiful,” which Fankhauser termed a “jukebox musical,” consistently elicits a particular response from its audience, widely composed of baby boomers who came of age while playing “Tapestry” on their turntables.

“We hear a ‘mooing,’ each time a song begins,” Fankhauser said, “We hear everyone’s nostalgia out loud. To hear that response is really rewarding.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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