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On Center: Sarah Bockel earns her opportunity to portray Carole King in 'Beautiful'

by on December 31, 2018 1:32 PM

It’s a Tony Award-winning musical about a shy girl from Brooklyn who becomes one of the most successful pop songwriters of all time. But casting directors for Beautiful–The Carole King Musical have found that three actresses raised in Chicago, not New York City, have the right blend of talents to evoke the star of the show.

Jessie Mueller won the 2014 Tony for best actress for her portrayal of King. Her sister, Abby, took over the role for the first national tour and is now playing King on Broadway. And Sarah Bockel, who understudied Abby Mueller on the road, is in her second season as King in the national tour that will come to Penn State for seven performances, February 19–24, at Eisenhower Auditorium.

Beautiful chronicles a dozen years from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, when King met and married lyricist Gerry Goffin, they wrote a stream of hit songs together, and their marriage imploded.

“I wasn’t aware of the story about her life, at all. I honestly just knew Tapestry. I knew those songs,” says Bockel, who understudied the role of King for 18 months before getting her turn to perform the character every day.

In preparing for the part, Bockel recalls, she watched countless YouTube videos of King performing so she could absorb the songwriter’s sound. But when it came to interpreting King on stage, the actress had to let go of the research to avoid seeming like she was doing an impersonation.

“I just try to live in her circumstances. Personally, how would I react? I try to look at is as the character Carole King. I’m not playing her as a person because this is a musicalized version,” says Bockel, who before her work in Beautiful had appeared almost exclusively in non-Equity productions at small venues in the Chicago area.

The show’s emotional core centers on King’s transformation from a teenager seemingly content to fulfill traditional roles as a wife and a mother to a reluctant singer who becomes an empowered voice of her generation.

“I identify with the character I play so much – the insecurity, the ability to laugh at yourself, feeling inferior, and wanting that domestic dream that I obviously do not have,” she says. “I kind of let go that I’m playing an internationally loved icon, and I’m just myself with an accent.”

Although the musical is set half a century ago, Beautiful’s story of a woman transcending personal setbacks and succeeding in a male-dominated field resonates with countless women today, Bockel says.

“I do feel inspired being able to do this show for however many hundreds of women are in the audience every night. I hope that they feel a boost of confidence. I hope that they feel comfortable with where they are at in their lives – that, you know, things never work out the way you think they’re going to work out, but you have to keep going, and pushing through … and living your own gifts.”


For tickets or information, go to or call (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.




John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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