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Sara Sheperd talks about starring in 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' at Greensboro's Tanger Center
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Sara Sheperd talks about starring in 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' at Greensboro's Tanger Center

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It wasn’t until Sara Sheperd prepared to play Carole King that she realized how many famous songs King had written.

“I knew of her songs before I knew they were her songs,” Sheperd said from Chicago, where she opened this week in the national tour of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

Songs such as “The Loco-Motion,” first recorded in 1962 by pop singer Little Eva from Belhaven in Beaufort County, N.C.

Or “One Fine Day,” a 1963 hit for The Chiffons. And “Will You Love me Tomorrow,” recorded in 1960 by The Shirelles.

Next week, Sheperd will sing several King songs for Triad audiences when the national tour of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” comes to the downtown Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts.

The Tony Award-winning musical will play for eight performances from Tuesday through Nov. 14.

“Beautiful” is the second show in the Tanger Center’s inaugural 2021-22 Broadway series. It follows “Wicked,” and precedes “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Come From Away,” “Disney’s The Lion King” and “Mean Girls.”

“I am so excited to be coming in with a show that people are going to want to see,” Sheperd said. “There’s so much joy in it and so much nostalgia for the people who lived when the songs came out. It’s going to be such a wonderful piece to bring to cities all around the country.”

Through at least mid-June, the tour will take Sheperd to performances around the country — including The Kennedy Center.

The jukebox musical tells the story of the early life and career of the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter.

Now 79, King is the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the United States, having written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” uses songs that she wrote, often together with first husband Gerry Goffin, and other contemporary songs by another composing couple, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

When her personal life begins to unravel, King eventually steps out of the shadows with the 1971 album “Tapestry,” that becomes one of the best-selling albums of all time.

On Saturday, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She previously had been inducted in 1990 with Goffin.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” features her songs such as “I Feel the Earth Move” and “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by King and Goffin.

And of course the title song “Beautiful,” which King released on “Tapestry.”

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Sheperd moved to New York in 2008. She made her Broadway debut in “Cry-Baby.” She followed that with the national tour of the musical “Legally Blonde.”

She left the tour to play Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” in Chicago, then returned to “Legally Blonde.”

After a few more regional productions, “Beautiful” came along, “which changed my life,” Sheperd said.

She auditioned successfully to join the show when it started in 2013 in San Francisco. She then moved with it to Broadway for nearly six years.

Sheperd acted as swing, covering the roles of King and King’s mother, Genie Klein.

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She also covered two female ensemble tracks. And she served as dance captain, teaching incoming cast members the choreography.

“Beautiful” closed on Broadway in 2019. Sheperd had been offered the Carole King role on the national tour, but the pandemic hit and closed down performances.

Then one fine day a few months ago, Sheperd got the call to play King on the resuming national tour. She jumped on the opportunity.

As a swing in the Broadway production, she appeared as King many times. “This is the first time I have been actually doing the role eight times a week, which I am really excited about,” Sheperd said.

So how does she portray Carole King?

“When I think of Carole King and who she is as a person, she is so grounded and authentic and her truest self through her music and just life,” Sheperd said.

“For me, and even watching other women play the part, that at the core is what I need to make sure I am tapped into when I step on the stage to play her. Everything needs to be rooted in truth and grounded.”

Sheperd is quite comfortable singing King’s music. She has been singing since age 5, and went to school for musical theater.

She studies voice in New York City with Matt Farnsworth, who also works with Sara Bareilles, Lea Solanga and Julianne Moore.

The musical supervisor has not told her to “sound more like Carole King” or any sort of imitation, Sheperd said.

“I’m using my voice,” Sheperd said. “I’m not putting on any sort of Carole-ism.”

“But stylistically or how she maybe phrases things musically, I try to incorporate,” Sheperd said. “Just singing from my heart. Because I think that’s what she does. That’s what people from all generations can relate to, and I think that’s how she touched so many people. So that is really what I try to focus on when I prepare to play her.”

As for playing the piano as King does, there’s no live music coming from the stage in “Beautiful.” It all comes from the orchestra in the pit, supporting the acting and singing that the cast does on stage.

Although Sheperd knows the piano (she often watched her father play and played the flute in high school), she considers what she does in “Beautiful” almost “hand choreography.” She learned chord positions and rhythm.

“It took a lot of time to learn rhythms and placement of my hands, and also then pairing that with singing,” Sheperd said. “That was the hardest part because rhythmically my hands are doing something different. Like I may be vocally sustaining a note but my hands are bopping away. So that took some time to gel for sure.”

She has her favorite songs in the musical.

Her favorite to perform is “Beautiful,” which comes toward the end of the show.

She loves its lyrics, particularly:

“I have often asked myself for reason for the sadness

In a world where tears are just a lullaby

If there’s any answer, maybe love can end the madness

Maybe not, oh, but we can only try.”

“It’s so powerful, especially living in what we have been living in for the last year and a half,” Sheperd said. “And I love pounding on those keys at the end of the show. It’s just thrilling.”

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204

and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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