Former Muny Executive Director Paul Blake and Associate Producer Mike Bosner Left St. Louis for New York and Have a Tony-winning Show still running on Broadway
By Lynn Venhaus
After Paul Blake listed “Carole King Musical” on a Muny survey one summer and it received only a few votes, he worried if the in-the-works “Beautiful” would draw an audience. His fretting was all for naught, as the musical recently celebrated its fifth anniversary on Broadway and is currently on its second national tour.
The Tony and Grammy Award-winning “Beautiful – the Carole King Musical” returns to the Fox Theatre for a limited engagement March 12-17.
“I am thrilled that ‘Beautiful’ continues to delight and entertain audiences around the globe, in England, Japan and Australia. We are entering our fourth amazing year of touring the U.S.,” Producer Paul Blake said. “We are so grateful that over five million audience members have been entertained by our celebration of Carole’s story and her timeless music.”
Being the head producer on “Beautiful” has been a dream-come-true experience, he said. Blake took a leap of faith when a record executive contacted him with the idea. And the rest, as they say, is history.
From their New York office, Blake and his co-producer Mike Bosner, a St. Louis native, recently talked about the show’s success, their producing partnership, and what they have in the works.
Blake was the executive director of The Muny for 22 seasons, stepping down in 2011. While at the Muny, he created two Broadway musicals from popular movies, “White Christmas” and “Roman Holiday,” so setting up shop in New York after his years here was a natural progress.
Bosner was an associate producer at the Muny for five seasons. Before he graduated fom John Burroughs high school, Wayne Salomon, his theater director, told him about a Saint Louis University internship at the Muny in the production office. Working in the business world of theater was where he wanted to be, and now, he’s an official Tony-nominated Broadway producer.
They are two motivated guys.
“We really love what we do. When you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work,” Bosner said.
They are currently working on a couple of new shows, not at liberty to say what, but will always have a special place in their heart for “Beautiful.”
“This was something special,” Bosner said.
“We are very lucky it has delighted audiences for over five years – around the world,” Black said.
They work hard putting together shows – ‘So many things to do!” Blake said, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s very fulfilling what we’ve chosen to do.”
He credits the Muny experience for keeping them on their toes.
“If I wouldn’t have done the Muny, I couldn’t get these shows together. It all comes together because we have that experience,” he said. “We learned how to put the best people together at the Muny.”
Since the tour’s launch in September 2015, “Beautiful” has played 1,130 performances in 82 cities over 142 weeks to nearly 2.5 million patrons.
Singer-songwriter Carole King’s true-life rise to stardom is a tailor-made follow-your-dreams story. The chart-topping music legend grew up in Brooklyn and then fought her way into the record business as a teenager. By the time she was in her 20s, she was married to college classmate Gerry Goffin and was flourishing as a songwriter in the fabled Brill Building, churning out hits for the biggest rock ‘n roll acts.
It wasn’t until her personal life unraveled that she finally managed to find her true voice, culminating in her landmark solo “Tapestry” album in 1971, which won four Grammys – including Record, Song and Album of the Year — and went on to be one of the greatest selling albums of all-time.
One of the most successful acts in music history, Carole wrote the soundtrack to a generation. The “Beautiful” music includes “I Feel the Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” “So Far Away,” the title song and many more.
So, Blake was surprised when there wasn’t much love for it on the end-of-season “What Shows Would You Like to See at the Muny?” survey.
“I was shocked. There was no recognition. I used to put on the survey shows that didn’t exist, like “White Christmas” – it got six votes and “Roman Holiday,” which got eight,” he said.
Blake made his debut as a Broadway producer with “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” which opened in 2009. The musical adaptation of the holiday movie classic had premiered at the Muny in 2000. The show had a second Broadway run, and has turned into a popular seasonal show at theaters around the country.
“It endures because it’s terrifically entertaining,” he said. “It’s one of the most requested musicals.”
“Paramount Pictures had hired me to create musicals from their film catalogue. I picked two – White Christmas and Roman Holiday,” Blake said.
He and Bosner have re-worked “Roman Holiday,” which will be coming to Broadway. It had a successful tryout in San Francisco last year. But before that, it was at the Muny about 12 years ago.
“These things don’t happen overnight,” Blake said. “We feel we have it right now – it needed some work. It has songs by Cole Porter. We have always thought it felt like a stage musical,” he said.
“Roman Holiday” is an Oscar-winning movie starring Audrey Hepburn as a Princess who escapes her confines and explores Rome with journalist Gregory Peck. Hepburn won Best Actress, Dalton Trumbo won Best Story and Edith Head won Best Costumes.
It’s on to the next project, but Blake recalls all the effort that went into making “Beautiful” sparkle.
Bosner said they began working on it in 2009.
“It took five years of talking and trying to get the contracts settled,” Blake said.
“So, after it got 6 votes, I wondered if there was an audience for it, but when making ‘Beautiful,’ everyone seemed to know how to do it. Let’s hope it works, I thought,” Blake said.
“At our very first reading, I asked Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher to come and give us his thoughts. He told me: ‘You have made a ‘Jersey Boys’ for women.’”
Carole King was reluctant to see her life played out publicly, but she gave permission.
“She saw what we were trying to do. She said, ‘I trust you,’ I see where you’re going,’ but she did not want to be involved. She went away. It was hard for her,” Blake said.
“Four months after we opened, we heard from her. We had sent her the script. Carole is all about the truth. She went to see the show. She was stunned. She’s been great. She let us know she supports us totally and fully,” Blake said.
“She performed at The Tonys. She came to New York City for the fifth anniversary (Jan. 12). No one knew she was going to be there. They were filming for CBS and we wanted to have the surprise moment be on camera, so we didn’t tell the cast. It was sensational,” Blake said.
It wouldn’t be the only time he’s heard that. For women of a certain age, the music is a walk down memory lane that has them on their feet at the curtain call, singing loudly to “I Feel the Earth Move.”
First and foremost was the music – beloved songs written by the husband-and-wife hit machine teams of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
“It had a bunch of great songs, catchy pop tunes,” Blake said. “We got the rights, and then Douglas McGrath (a Tony and Academy Award nominee) put the Brill Building in the book, and that makes it a story. Doug’s book is so under-appreciated. It is a great book.”
Director Marc Bruni, who has directed at the Muny eight times, “Singin’ in the Rain,” “My Fair Lady,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “The Music Man” and “The Sound of Music,” made his Broadway debut with “Beautiful.” He has since helmed the new production of ‘Roman Holiday.”
The show opened Jan. 12, 2014, on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 125 West 43 Street, where it is still playing. It broke all box office records there and recently became the theatre’s highest grossing production in its history.
“Beautiful” was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2014, including Best Musical, and won two – for Best Lead Actress in a Musical (Jessie Mueller) and Best Sound Design.
“We were so proud of the show as is, so the nominations were the icing on the cake,” Bosner said.
The Original Broadway Cast Recording of “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” (Ghostlight Records) won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and is available on CD, digitally, and on vinyl.
“When asked about the show, nobody says they like it. Everyone says they love it. There’s a lot of love there, and that’s powerful,” Blake had said after the Tony nominations.
In addition to the current Broadway and North American Touring productions, “Beautiful” is also playing internationally, with productions in Japan, Australia and touring the UK. An award-winning production recently concluded its run in London’s West End after opening on Feb. 25, 2015.
“We saw it in Japan. It was wonderful,” Blake said.
The producers are now working on a movie version of the musical.
“It’s in pre-production, might be one and half, two years. We have a draft of a screenplay. The contract is drying as we speak,” Blake said.
The cast of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing-sponsored North American tour includes Sarah Bockel as Carole King, Dylan S. Wallach as Gerry Goffin, Alison Whitehurst as Cynthia Weil, Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann, Muny alum James Clow as Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner as Genie Klein.
The ensemble includes Ben Biggers, Darius Delk, John Michael Dias, Leandra Ellis-Gaston, Kaylee Harwood, Willie Hill, Alia Hodge, James Michael Lambert, Harper Miles, Dimitri Joseph Moïse, Ashley Morgan, Deon Releford-Lee, Nathan Andrew Riley, Paul Scanlan, DeAnne Stewart, Danielle J. Summons, Alexis Tidwell and Elise Vannerson.
The creative team includes Derek McLane (Set Design), Alejo Vietti (Costume Design), Peter Kaczorowski (Lighting Design), Brian Ronan (Sound Design), Charles G. LaPointe (Wig and Hair Design), Steve Sidwell (Orchestrations and Music Arrangements), Jason Howland (Music Supervision) and John Miller (Music Coordination). Vietti’s credits include The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis – “Evita” and
Besides Blake, Bosner and Sony, producers included Jeffrey A. Sine, Richard A. Smith, Mike Bosner, Harriet N. Leve/Elaine Krauss, Terry Schnuck, Orin Wolf, Patty Baker/Good Productions, Roger Faxon, Larry Magid, Kit Seidel, Lawrence S. Toppall, Fakston Productions/Mary Solomon, William Court Cohen, John Gore, BarLor Productions, Matthew C. Blank, Tim Hogue, Joel Hyatt, Marianne Mills, Michael J. Moritz, Jr., StylesFour Productions, Brunish/Trinchero and Jeremiah J. Harris.
Performances Tuesday, March 12, through Sunday, March 17, are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday and 1 p.m. Thursday, March 14.
“Beautiful” is part of the U.S. Bank Broadway series. Tickets are available through MetroTix.com, by calling 314-534-1111 or in person at the Fabulous Fox Box Office. For more information, visit www.FabulousFox.com
For more information and video, visit www.BeautifulOnBroadway.com.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.