On Tuesday, I attended my second viewing of the Tony and Grammy winning show Beautiful the Carole King Musical at Wharton Center for Performing Arts. Afterwards, it was a pleasure to sit down with the two talented principals.
Cindy Kangas: Let’s start by chatting about growing up. Did you have a passion for music and theatre then?
Julia Knitel: Actually, both my parents are performers and run a theater company in New Jersey, so I grew up with it. I think I did my first show in the womb actually, so I've always been a part of it and it's always been a part of me. I always knew that this was my path.
Liam Tobin: I got into it a little later. I was a sports kid for a while. In high school, I had a bunch of friends who were acting and they wouldn't shut up about how fun it was, so I figured I'd give it a try. Then, behold I stepped on stage and figured if I could get paid to do it, I'd love to make it happen.
CK: What was your college career like?
JK: I was actually a perpetual dropout. I dropped out of school for my first Broadway show. It was never actually intentional. It fell upon me and I made the decision to choose my career. I was in school in at Marymount medical college when Beautiful came into my life and I chose Beautiful.
LT: I went to Sheridan College and Oak Hill, Ontario just outside of Toronto for a year, then got a job in downtown Toronto with every intention of going back, but work just kind of kept happening.
CK: What was your journey to Beautiful?
JK: I started auditioning for Betty and they started having me do more and more Carole. At 22-years-old, I was scared out of my mind. They said you didn't get the role, but we want you to join the Broadway company in two weeks. I spent a year and a half understudying in New York with the company. It was really a wonderful experience. When Abby, who played the role for a year, left I was next in line. They called me to ask if I wanted to go on the road and it didn't take long for me to say yes.
LT: I was in the first cast of the tour. We started in 2015 and I've been with it ever since.
CK: How much creative license were you given to create your interpretation of these real people?
JK: I think Carole is such an icon, her voice is a part of our DNA. They choose people to play her who have her spirit in some variation. It's never going to be an impersonation of Carole. I'm coloring the role with as much of me as I can fit and it's a happy marriage between the two of us. That's what makes it cool. I've met so many people on the road who've seen the show multiple times and tell me they’ve seen other actresses play the role and how amazing it is that all four women who’ve played the role have completely different takes on a really iconic part.
LT: Yeah, obviously there's a framework, because they are real people that we play. You have to stay true to their spirit. When we started rehearsing for the tour, our director was right in saying that it didn’t matter what we did on Broadway, it’s what's happening now. He’d ask, “What is this scene for you?” We are really lucky to have such a great creative team in that regard.
CK: You play the same character over a long period of time? Do you have a piece of wardrobe? How does the wardrobe cover your aging?
JK: I don't have many fashionable pieces, Carole is definitely not a fashion plate. It's not important to her or part of her daily life. I wear some interesting clothes. I love the Carnegie dress because it's the one time I get to really feel like a beautiful lady. Every night, I start in the 50s and end in the 70s. I wear these little girl outfits and that's funny. There’s a school girl skirt and sweater, then I'm a mom with a mom haircut. I wear sweaters and hold a baby, it's definitely a big journey. The clothes really help. They change your whole feel.
LT: Well I wear a lot of blue shirts. My favorite may be Carnegie Hall too, it's the denim tuxedo bell bottom outfit. That's pretty hot, pretty awesome. It may be coming with me when I leave the show.
CK: Do you have a favorite prop or scene? Do you have a favorite song?
JK: I really like the baby and carriage. The baby has an unattractive face. Actually both baby props are kind of hideous, but I love them. It’s funny because I have to have a really genuine moment where I'm like looking at the baby and loving it, scratching its tummy and it's just very ugly. One night, one of the girls but an Afro wig on it. It made me giggle. My favorite song changes every night. It’s different in every city, because I notice the audience has favorites. The last night we noticed the audience was dying for Lovin’ Feeling. Sometimes it's Locomotion, sometimes it's Natural Woman. People love that song. It changes with the energy of the audience. At the beginning of tour, So Far Away was a favorite. I appreciate the words now, because I'm so far away from everything.
CK: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
LT: I don't do as much of a ritual, but I am a bit of a prankster. I'll spend my half hour trying to find ways to play tricks on people.
JK: I have an extensive pre-show ritual. I get in an hour before the show and I do some steaming, warming up and some yoga stretching. I need some centering and meditation. The role requires a certain level of readiness when I walk on stage. I found little things I can do for myself, like listening to music and trying to feel that well.
CK: How do you stay healthy on tour?
JK: We're having a tough time this winter. It's been cold and people have been dropping more readily than I noticed in the past. I think it's really about eating right and exercising, taking care of yourself and knowing that sometimes you get sick and when you get sick, step out [and] take the time to get better. We need to get medicine. I do all sorts of crazy remedies like apple cider vinegar and Emergen-C. I'm a kook about it.
LT: I take a lot of medicines and herbal things, but I don't get sick.
JK: He's Canadian, he’s never sick.
CK: Tell me about your cast chemistry.
JK: We are really lucky because everybody's so nice. We are the same age and we we're like-minded. We spend a lot of time together and I think it's about recognizing that this is a bubble. We are in new places every week with the same people. I’m feeling lucky to be around these awesome people. I don’t know anyone in East Lansing, so when I come home from the show at night, I depend on my cast mates to be my family, friends and support system.
LT: Sometimes you need to take a night for yourself, but it's a really good group that will come together for one another.
CK: What advice would you give your younger self or youth coming up in Broadway?
JK: My first piece of advice is to always be nice to people. People want to work with people who are easy to work with and nice, and people who make you laugh. No one wants to work with someone who's in a bad mood. Come in with a smile on your face and make it a fun two and a half hours. Keep it light and keep it fresh. Be a person people want to be around.
LT: Tommy Lee Jones has a quote that speaks about how it’s a privilege to be an actor and I take that to heart. That’s a bit of a mantra. Sometimes things don't go your way, or it's a long travel day or you're tired, but we have a good job and it's key to remember that.
CK: Liam, let’s talk about your character. How do you keep Gerry, who is making a lot of mistakes, so loveable?
LT: People like to paint Gerry as a villain, but don't think that's true. He's really trying his best in his own way. He makes a lot of mistakes along the way and it tears him apart, because he really wants to be a great father, good friend and a good husband, but can't seem to get it together. I feel like that's kind of his tragic flaw that he just never made it work. It sends him a little further down the rabbit hole. I think it's important to remain likable, because that’s why Carole was with him. That's what I keep in mind playing Jerry.
CK: What are your hobbies offstage?
JK: I love to cook. It's really important to me that where I'm standing has a kitchen. I was in a hotel for a month and my boyfriend came to visit me with a hot plate and some pots and so I could cook. I really love food and cooking. It's a really important part of my day.
LT: I don't I have a lot of hobbies. I like to fly, I'm a pilot. I try to do that as much as I can. We’re heading back to Florida, so I’ll do a lot of scuba diving and things that just drain my wallet.
JK: I’ve been lucky to find fly wheel and exercise classes in almost every city I've been to. I love to find classes where we visit.
CK: Where do you see yourself in the future?
LT: It’s exciting to live in the moment as an actor. Not knowing where my next job will be can be fun. It's always something new.
JK: Actors aren’t in the same job for twelve years. It's awesome. I'm here until the end of my contract, but who knows what comes at the end of it.
Beautiful will be at Wharton Center through January 15th. You can buy tickets to the show and view show times at WhartonCenter.com
Follow Julia and Liam on Instagram: @juliaknitel and @ltobes4