January 17, 2019

The Stories Behind the Songs in ‘Beautiful’

Cast of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."

A jukebox musical stocked with hits by singer-songwriter Carole King that underscore the times of her life, “Beautiful” has been a hot ticket since it opened on Broadway in 2014, winning five Tony Awards that year. 

On Sept. 12, the show’s national tour checks into the Hollywood Pantages Theatre for 24 performances, with Sarah Bockel as King, Dylan Wallach as her songwriting partner and ex-husband, Gerry Goffin, and Allison Whitehurst and Jacob Heimer as her friends and fellow Jewish songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

“Our audience is in for a treat every night,” Heimer told the Journal. “They may come for the songs, but ‘Beautiful’ is really about the stories behind the songs, which are just as deep as the music. It has show-stopping numbers. It has an incredibly written, funny script, and for a lot of people it’s real a trip down memory lane.”

Despite King’s prolific body of work, “a lot of people don’t know that in her early years [she] wrote hits for the Shirelles and the Drifters with Gerry Goffin,” Heimer said. “They wrote ‘Up on the Roof’ and ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ and ‘Locomotion’ for their baby sitter, Little Eva.” Those numbers are in the show, along with Mann-Weil songs “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ’’ and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” hits for the Righteous Brothers and the Animals, respectively.

Jacob Heimer, the actor who is playing singer-songwriter Barry Mann in “Beautiful.” Photo by Matthew Dunivan

Heimer finds the latter number “incredibly challenging but a blast to sing. But my favorite song I get to sing is ‘Walking in the Rain.’ It’s a simple, beautiful moment in the show.” 

“A lot of people don’t know that in her early years [Carole King] wrote hits for the Shirelles and the Drifters with Gerry Goffin. They wrote ‘Up on the Roof’ and ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’” — Jacob Heimer

For Heimer, who joined the production over a year ago as a member of the ensemble and understudy for the role he now plays, meeting Mann for the first time was “a little overwhelming and surreal. I was panicking, hoping that I was doing something that would represent him well,” he said.

“Although Barry was a performer in his own right, he’s known as a songwriter, so I have a bit more freedom compared to whoever is playing Carole. But there is still pressure because Barry is alive and we have such a debt to his music. I carry that weight with me every night. But I love that I get to show the audience who this very important figure in music is.”

Heimer, who grew up in Connecticut and now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he was “always musical. I was a terrible student, definitely ADD. Although I love learning, it was very hard for me to concentrate.” But once he became involved with the Music Theatre of Connecticut, he found focus and his grades improved. 

At 12, he attended the performing arts camp French Woods and made connections that led to an audition at the Goodspeed Opera House and his first professional acting role. He went on to study acting at Syracuse University and has since had a variety of stage, screen and TV roles, including in “Difficult People,” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Gold Star,” the Israel-set musical “Milk and Honey” and “Soul Doctor,” about ‘singing Rabbi’ Shlomo Carlebach.

“I definitely am a type: Jewish and Italian. Somehow I haven’t been cast in a Neil Simon play or ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ yet,” Heimer joked.  He was raised in a Reform home and became a bar mitzvah but is not observant today. “My Jewish identity is strong and important to me although I’m not a practicing Jew except for the big holidays. [Judaism] is more important in terms of family history,” he said.

“My grandfather was in a few labor camps. Everyone in his family died in Auschwitz. And my grandmother was on a slave boat for more than two years. They met in Israel after the war and my mom was born there,” he said. “I have a lot of family there. I’ve been there four times and I hope to go back.”

His wife, Lisa, who works for the Center for Reproductive Rights, is not Jewish or religious, but it’s important to Heimer to raise any future children with a sense of their heritage. “I want my kids to know where they came from,” he said. 

He conceded that being away from home on a 10-month tour is “very ungrounding and disorienting,” and tough for a married couple, but one of them flies to see the other every three weeks. Once the tour is over, he hopes to add more TV and film roles to his credit list. “I’m attracted to good material and finding the humor in things that are serious,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Heimer is looking forward to the rest of the run of “Beautiful.” “I’ve never done role quite like Barry. [It’s] funny and so well written, with standout singing moments,” he said. “I feel so privileged to be in a show like this.”  

“Beautiful” will run at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre from Sept. 12-30.