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See the story of how Carole King rose to stardom in Dayton this week

After interviewing Carole King for days, playwright Douglas McGrath was faced with a tough decision. Which parts of the legendary singer/songwriter’s personal journey should be included in a musical about her life?

You’ll see the results when the Tony and Grammy award-winning Broadway hit “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” makes its Dayton premiere at the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center May 22-27. The show’s songs include “I Feel The Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,”“You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” “Up on the Roof” and “Take Good Care of My Baby.”

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McGrath believes for a Broadway show to succeed, the audience has to care about and connect with the people in it — whether it’s the King in “The King and I” or Alexander Hamilton in “Hamilton.” In this case, McGrath decided to focus on a period in King’s life that began in 1959, just before Brooklyn native Carol Klein composed her first hit song. She is 17, pregnant and newly married to 20-year-old lyricist Gerry Goffin.

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The decade that follows includes her early songwriting years, the break-up of her marriage and the 1971 release of “Tapestry,” one of the best-selling albums of all time. “Tapestry” not only represented Carole King’s artistic peak as a performer and writer but also sums up everything that had gone on in her life up to that point, McGrath notes. “All of those things inform these songs. Because ‘Tapestry’ was such a triumph, it supports the play’s message of victory over heartbreak.”

The playwright didn’t know a lot about the famous singer before becoming involved with the Broadway show. “She is a keep-to-herself kind of person and my standard joke is that — like most people — I thought she was born, learned to walk and then recorded ‘Tapestry!’ ” he says. “What I didn’t realize was that 12 years before ‘Tapestry’ came out she was writing hit songs for all of the big groups in the ’50s and ’60s —Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, the Shirrells, the Beatles, the Monkees.”

Crafting a show

The other main characters in “Beautiful” are another married songwriting couple — Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

“We were lucky in this case because ‘Beautiful’ is about four real people,” says McGrath, who interviewed all four songwriters at length. “All four were intelligent, inspiring, interesting and flawed people — meaning they are human, not perfect — which helps an audience relate and connect.”

McGrath was obviously impressed with King when he interviewed her. “You don’t necessarily think of rock musicians as intellectual, but Carole is really brainy and could speak articulately about everything,” he says. “She skipped two grades in school and was in college by age 16. She has a perfect memory and never struggled for specific dates or names. Later, when I interviewed Gerry, her ex-husband, he confirmed everything she had told me.”

McGrath says his hours with King weren’t always easy for her. “Her life has been filled with joy as well as heartbreak and I don’t think she had talked about some of it for a long, long time,” he says. “A lot of Kleenex kept coming out of her purse. Gerry was her first love.”

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Whenever he worked on the script, McGrath played their music in the background. “It helped me see the connections between events in their lives and the music itself, what they created, ” he explains. “You could hear something in their lyrics and stories that would make sense with certain parts of their lives. I wanted the songs to feel connected to their lives.”

That goal was apparently achieved. King walked out halfway through the first read-through she attended. It turned out, says McGrath, it wasn’t that she didn’t like it. She did. It was simply too painful.

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Becoming Carole

Since that time, King has returned to see the entire show. Sarah Bockel, who will portray the famous singer in Dayton, remembers a night in Boston when the cast was asked to gather on stage after the performance for an important announcement.

“We thought we were getting fired!” recalls the Chicago native who worked as an understudy for the leading role before playing it. “Then, Carole King walked out! We didn’t know she was there, it would have made us too nervous. She was extremely gracious and kind, gave us her blessing. Everyone was crying and clapping because she’s not only changed our lives but has changed millions of other people’s lives. We all got to take a selfie with her.”

Bockel says there’s a lot she loves about this part and this show. “I love singing the music every night, and love the other 22 people in the show,” she begins. “I love the fact that theater allows people to communicate a message to a group of strangers sitting in the dark who are bought together because they want to be told a story. I love telling stories. I like communicating with people, making them feel joy, sad. I love being a different person and I love the work you have to do within yourself to produce genuine emotion in yourself so that others can feel something cathartic. I love that it’s never the same and you’re always learning.”

Bockel believes audiences relate to “Beautiful” because they have a major connection to the music and to memories attached to it. “Her music is so personal and so applicable to everyone’s lives,” she believes. “For example, what does it mean to be a natural woman? It can mean something different to everyone but the idea is really simple.”

The take-away

McGrath hopes Carole King fans who come to the show will be surprised to discover new things about the singer’s life. He’s also hoping those fans bring their kids and grand-kids.

“Her story is very inspiring for young people,” he says. “It’s about a girl who — at 16 — broke into a business where there were no females. And when her marriage came apart and she thought everything was lost, there were even better things ahead. It’s a great message for those who have experienced losses — a first heartbreak or a job that doesn’t work out. You think you’re the only one who has had your heart broken and that’s not the case. It’s great to see someone who’s had difficult things happen and fully recovers without becoming bitter.”

WANT TO GO?

What: “Beautiful-The Carole King Musical”

When: May 22-27. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton

Tickets: $26 and up plus service fees. Get tickets online at TicketCenterStage.com, at the Box Office, or by phone at (937) 228-3630 or (888) 228-3630.

NOTE: Saturday matinee performances of Broadway Series presentations are sign interpreted. Audio description is available by request.

BACKGROUND ON BROADWAY At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday, you can learn about the development, history, and artistry of the show. This free event is held in the Schuster Center’s fourth-floor lobby. You must have a ticket to that day’s performance.

Mastermind behind Dayton urban poetry showcase to be honored today 

Sierra Leone will be in the spotlight today.

The Dayton writer and one of the leaders of a Dayton urban poetry movement is a 2018 Ohio Governor’s Award recipient in the category of Community Development and Participation.

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The award is presented by the Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation. Sierra’s award, in Community Development and Participation, is for, according to the Ohio Arts Council website, an “Individual or organization that works to create or strengthen interactive arts participation among diverse community members while increasing public awareness about the role of the arts in community life.”

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That is certainly a fitting description of Sierra, who is the president and artistic director of Oral Funk Poetry (OFP) Productions, co-founded with her husband Robert Owens Sr.

“I felt euphoric,” Sierra said, when I asked her to describe her reaction to learning that she’d won the award. “I don’t make art for validation, and yet this particular validation felt powerful, to know that our state recognizes and values the work I’ve created with Robert.”

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For more than a decade, OFP has produced “The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show,” a bi-monthly show that presents urban poetry, music, dance and more, drawing from local, regional and international talent. The show is housed at The Loft Theatre and is co-presented by The Human Race Theatre Company. In addition, the show expanded to include a poetry competition, The Last Poet Standing.

“The urban art we’ve produced is a unique form, celebrating all art forms with poetry as the moral fabric,” Sierra says. “Spoken word poetry is not usually in the forefront of the arts, so for this to be honored by the state is meaningful to us.”

Sierra also works with organizations and schools through the company’s educational arm, particularly focusing on girls’ empowerment work. She writes and performs her own poetry as well.

“I come from a large family,” Sierra says, “And I started thinking about this when I learned of the award. I wondered, ‘what are the roots of my passion for connecting arts, artists and community?’ And I think it has to do with growing up in a large family, and from my grandmother who emphasized that life is better together, in community. In community, we can be more creative, more impactful, reach more people in diverse audiences.”

Indeed, The Signature shows are, Sierra says, in some ways like artistic church to the attendees. “It’s a higher minded experience, and provides in many ways a sense of healing to the community.”

At the same time, Sierra says that “the arts are constantly morphing and changing, and so we need to, too, at OFP.” Looking ahead to the next ten years, Sierra says the production company will continue to produce some “The Signature” shows, but also aims to develop other experiences and productions. Sierra, who started as spoken word poet, plans to also continue to grow as a poet in writing, and to focus on consulting with area schools and organizations and to serve as the lead educational consultant for her husband Robert’s education business.

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“Robert has been in my corner 100%, all along,” she says. “I’ve learned that no one creates goodness alone.”

Diverse cast of Dayton kids taking on Cinderella and her glass slipper this weekend

A glass slipper is going lead to a whole lot of magic near downtown this weekend. 

Stivers School for the Arts is taking on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” during shows Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. 

Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students.  

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“It is a great story, and it has great music,” said Paula Powell, the production’s manager. “Each actor brings (his or her) own personality (to the characters). We have a pretty diverse group of kids in the cast.”  

Many of the actresses and actors don’t reflect the classic story’s traditional typecasting.

Based on “The Wonderful World of Disney: Cinderella,” a 1997 movie starring Whitney Houston and Brandy Norwood, Stivers’ diverse show includes a black girl,  Kiama Wa-Tenza, as Cinderella and Fischer Barnett, a teen boy, as the stepmother. 

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The diverse casting was no big deal at Stivers, said Powell, Stivers director of choirs, noting that the arts transcends.

“We are pretty easy-going here,” she said. “People auditioned and the characters just sorted themselves out.”

About 70 students from each of the  school’s magnet programs are represented in the production that includes music from a student orchestra. 

The show includes audio and visual elements and Puppets from Zoot Theatre Company.

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Beside Wa-Tenza and  Barnett,  key actors and actresses include  Trinity Hines Anthony as Fairy Godmother; David Lewis as the Prince; Isaac Bement  as  Lionel, the royal steward;  Clara Bement  as Joy, a step sister; Ana Smith as Grace, the other step sister; Logan Van Bibber as King; Erin Fultz as Queen;  Brandan Jeffries and Lamorris Render as Mice; Ryan Gibson as Charles the cat and Desmond Kingston as Dove. 

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Steve Martin and Martin Short are coming to Cincinnati

Following a Sold Out show in 2017, longtime comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short will return to Cincinnati, OH to appear at PNC Pavilion for one night only on Sunday, May 27. The show, “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life,” will include stand-up, film clips, musical numbers and conversations about their lives in show business. Martin and Short will be joined by the Grammy® Award-winning bluegrass band The Steep Canyon Rangers and renowned jazz pianist and Jimmy Kimmel Live band member Jeff Babko.

Steve Martin is one of the most acclaimed and beloved talents in entertainment. His work has earned numerous honors including an Academy Award®, five Grammy Awards, an Emmy® Award, the Mark Twain Award and the Kennedy Center Honors. Many of Martin’s films are considered modern classics, including The Jerk,Planes, Trains & AutomobilesRoxanneParenthoodL.A. Storyand Father of the Bride. As an author, Martin’s work includes the novel An Object of Beauty; the play Picasso at the Lapin Agile; a collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel; a best-selling novella,Shopgirl; and his memoir Born Standing Up. His latest play, Meteor Shower, will premiere on Broadway this November 29th in a production starring Emmy Award winner Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Award® winner Laura Benanti; and Jeremy Shamos, and directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks.

Martin is also an accomplished Grammy Award-winning, boundary-pushing bluegrass banjoist and composer. In 2013, he released his third full-length album, Love Has Come For You, a unique collaboration with songwriter Edie Brickell. Love Has Come For You won a Grammy for “Best American Roots Song” for the title track and inspired their musical Bright StarBright Star received five Tony Award nominations and received Outstanding New Broadway Musical and Outstanding New Score at the Outer Critics Circle Awards. Martin and Brickell’s second album together, So Familiar, was released on Rounder Records and featured 12 remarkable songs that bought the acclaimed duo’s musical collaboration into fresh creative territory. Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers recently released their newest collaboration, The Long-Awaited Album, on Rounder Records.

Martin Short is a beloved comedian and actor, whose career spans television, film and theater. Since his breakout performances on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Short has become a household name with roles in feature films including the science fiction comedy InnerspaceThree Amigos, and as the quirky wedding planner, Franck Eggelhoffer, in the Father of the Bride series. He has also delighted audiences in Broadway performances including his 2006 revue Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me and the 1998 revival of Neil Simon’sLittle Me. Short has earned two Emmy Awards for his writing in SCTV Network 90, as well as his involvement in the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Mel Brooks. He is also recognized for his performances in several television series, including DamagesPrimetime GlickMerlin and SCTV Network 90. Short also starred opposite Maya Rudolph in NBC’s comedy show Maya & Marty.

  • Date: Sunday, May 28th
  • Time: 8:00 PM
  • Location: PNC Pavilion
  • Ticket prices: $63 - $143
  • Get tickets
  • Map of PNC Pavilion

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to appear in opera

Supreme Court justice and opera enthusiast Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be wearing a different set of robes next month, moving from her court chambers to the stage.

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On Nov. 12, the 83-year-old will perform in a non-singing role as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in Gaetano Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment.” The Washington National Opera announced her one-time, opening night role in its staging of the show at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. next month.

“While the opera is best known for the vocal acrobatics required of its singers, the high-comedy antics of the non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp often steal the show,” the opera said in a statement.

The script of the opera will be slightly altered to mention Ginsburg’s job as a Supreme Court justice. Her character has been played by a diverse set of performers, from Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé to actress Bea Arthur.

Ginsburg, however, is no stranger to the stage, appearing as an extra in several operas through the years.

In 2009, she and the late Justice Antonin Scalia were extras in a party scene of Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” on the Washington National Opera stage, the Washington Post reported.

The Washington National Opera said she also was an extra in "Ariadne auf Naxos" in 1994 and in Johann Strauss II's "Die Fledermaus" in 2003.

Another Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, once made a surprise appearance in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Henry V,” playing the role of Isabel, queen of France.

Ginsburg has always had a love of the arts. According to the Washingtonian, her mother introduced her to theater at the Brooklyn Academy — “my dream place as a child.”

Ticket sales were brisk for “Daughter of the Regiment.”

“We definitely sold a lot of tickets today after our announcement,” Washington National Opera spokesman Michael Solomon told Reuters.

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