By Kharisma McIlwaine
When it comes to singer-songwriters that have left their mark on the music industry, Carole King’s name will always be included among the greats. Active since 1958, King — born Carol Joan Klein — began working with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, penning a catalog of what we now know as classics. She went on to release 25 albums, including her most popular album — “Tapestry” — which held the record for the most weeks at number one by any female artist for over 20 years. The life story of the Grammy Award winning Songwriters Hall of Famer titled “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” debuted on Broadway in 2014.
The musical returns to Philadelphia for the third time due to high demand. Singer-songwriter and musician Ryan Farnsworth stars in the production as Barry Mann. Farnsworth spoke with the SUN about his role in the show and his appreciation for the homage it pays to King’s music.
Farnsworth discovered his love for musical theater during a community theater production of “Little Women,” where he played Laurie.
“I was in bands, like a lot of California boys in the 90’s and early 2000’s,” Farnsworth said. “I was always interested in movies and acting, and so a friend of mine kind of talked me into auditioning for a musical when I was 15. I said ‘ok, I guess, it’s music and acting… two things I really like, let’s see what it’s like doing both of them together.’ After that, I really enjoyed it and kept going with it.”
Farnsworth was encouraged to pursue musical theater professionally with the help of his mentor, Roger Emerson, who is an arranger for a number of Broadway shows.
“He sort of convinced me that going to school and studying musical theater would be really beneficial to me and that I would really enjoy it,” Farnsworth recalled. “He said that if I studied just acting, I would be very jealous of the kids studying musical theater. I was happy to have heeded his advice.”
Farnsworth went on to study at University of California Irvine in Southern California. Upon graduating, he was very fortunate to find consistent work. His work with “Beautiful” began with him working as a swing, learning all aspects of several characters. That role opened the door for Farnsworth to eventually land the role of Barry Mann.
“I was fortunate enough to be in the first national tour, which was way back in 2015, as a swing,” he said. “I call it a ‘utility infielder on a baseball team’ position. I had to cover seven different tracks. I had to know seven different roles in case someone got sick, injured or took a vacation. I did that for a year and really enjoyed it. Then a few months back, I got a call from the company and they said ‘would you be interested in coming back and playing Barry?’ — I said ‘absolutely!’ I have been on cloud nine since then working with this amazing company and cast on this really amazing show.”
Initially, Farnsworth was not very familiar with all of Carole King’s music catalog, which is vast. However, after researching for this role, he quickly realized the huge impact her work has had on music lovers of all ages.
“I know that “Beautiful” and the album “Tapestry” just celebrated its 50th anniversary… it’s timeless,” Farnsworth said. “The music transcends generations. I have friends who [say that] “Tapestry” is their favorite album of all time, and they’re 23-years-old. Coming from a rock background, I think it does give me a bit of an advantage when it comes to rock and pop musicals as opposed to traditional musical theater, so I was really excited about it.”
Farnsworth plays Barry Mann in the show, a prolific songwriter who worked alongside Carole King, with his writing partner and wife Cynthia Weil. The writing duo were also Carole King and her husband’s best friends.
“The show is just so wonderfully written,” Farnsworth said. “It’s funny and heartfelt, especially Barry. I think it’s so fortunate because Barry has the opportunity to be so unique and funny, but he also has the opportunity to write these really beautiful songs and I get to showcase that aspect of his character. There’s also a moment in Act 2 where he gets to rock and roll and that takes me back to my old rock days. I get to do everything that I love to do in a show.”
Farnsworth also shared his enthusiasm for having the opportunity to work with his co-stars.
“It really is honestly a joy every single night or afternoon to be out there and do the show, especially with my amazing co-stars,” he said. “Sarah King who plays Cynthia, the two of us have such an easy and loving chemistry. It works so well and really is very similar to the way Barry and Cynthia are in the show. It’s loving, a little elbow grinding, nudging and getting under each other’s skin and just pushing each other to be better. The honest truthful love that exists between the two of them, our friendship mirrors that.” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” not only pays homage to the life and career of Carole King, but more than anything, it highlights the incredible soundtrack of her life.
“This show really is about the music,” Farnsworth said. “Yes, it’s an amazing story about a woman who overcame adversity and started young to become really kind of the first singer-songwriter that was super well known. But really, it’s about the music and the attention to the music and that has to be the through line throughout the entire show. Being a songwriter myself, I took it on myself to make sure that everything was as specific as I possibly could get it. I think that comes across to the audience.”
To keep up with Ryan Farnsworth and support his journey, be sure to visit his website at: www.ryanfarnsworth.net. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” will be at the Kimmel Cultural Campus Academy of Music from February 22-27. Visit: www.kimmelculturalcampus.org for more details on tickets and showtimes.
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