Arts & Culture

'Beautiful' Arrives in Manila and Its Leads Look Forward to Making Beautiful Music Together

Kayla Rivera and Nick Varricchio play the roles of songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin, whose creative partnership was one of the most commercially and critically successful of its time.
IMAGE ATLANTIS THEATRICAL
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It’s a quiet night in Pasig City, and actors Kayla Rivera and Nick Varricchio are still mildly jetlagged. They just recently arrived in the Philippines, coming from Canada and the U.S., respectively. It’s dinner time.

Rivera eyes the dessert menu, but will only order if everyone else at the table shares it with her. Varricchio browses through the menu, asking if the restaurant serves laing. They’re both looking forward to having as much ube as they want while they’re in town.

Why they’re in town is a much more exciting story. The two have been cast as the leads for Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group’s production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical directed by Bobby Garcia. Rivera plays the titular character, an award-winning songwriter and performer whose timeless music continues to play on the radio, some 50-odd years after the songs first hit the airwaves. Varricchio, on the other hand, plays Gerry Goffin, Carole’s songwriting partner, sometimes muse, and eventually her estranged husband.

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Nick Varricchio and Kayla Rivera star as Gerry Goffin and Carole King

Their first collaboration, The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” has been covered by artists like Cher, Andy Gibb, and Amy Winehouse more than 25 times. The Drifters’ “Some Kind of Wonderful,” another song by King and Goffin, has been covered by Marvin Gaye and Michael Buble, among many others. Even Kylie Minogue’s star-making single, “The Loco-Motion,” was originally penned King and Goffin in 1962; Minogue’s version hit Australian dance clubs two and a half decades later.

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King and Goffin’s creative partnership was one of the most commercially and critically successful of its time, so much so that John Lennon was quoted as having once said that he’d hoped he and Paul McCartney would be the “Goffin-King of England.” The pair’s list of hits is so extensive, it often comes as a surprise to hear that certain songs are part of their body of work.

“That happened to me!,” Rivera laughs. “You don't realize that some of these songs are their songs. I had the script [for Beautiful] and I had been studying, but still—hearing they were theirs was just amazing!”

“When I was 12, I was obsessed with [Aretha Franklin’s] ‘Natural Woman’,” she continues, “And my mom was like ‘That's so age-inapproriate! You cannot sing that!’ I just loved it. So now, doing the show and finding out it's Carole King's song, it's amazing.”

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King’s relationship with Goffin, however, ended far too early, and much of Beautiful’s story deals with the music that came as a result of—or in spite of—their rocky marriage. Goffin began to cheat on King, and in 1964 fathered a child with another woman. He eventually fell into drug addiction, and in 1969, the two divorced.

“She still was resilient and optimistic,” Rivera says of King. “It was mentioned that Gerry Goffin, he would write lyrics a little bit more dark, whereas Carole King would find a little bit more of the brighter side to it, like the melodies would have a brightness to them, in contrast to the darkness of the lyrics. I feel like she was able to find the light in dark situations and in dark times.”

“I think Gerry Goffin, he's a lot of talent,” Varricchio continues. “He's a lot of drive. He's very passionate about the work that he does. And I think there's a lot of misplaced love because he was growing up in a time where you just kind of got thrust into being an adult, in his personal life. It didn't give him a whole lot of time to be a young adult and explore everything that he might have wanted to. But Carole King, even though he did her a lot of wrong, she loved him and empathized with him, and was there at his darkest moments.”

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“Even after she found out [about the affair], she was understanding of it,” Rivera shares. “She's just so caring. I mean, she prioritized him and what he wanted at that time. Later on, she was grateful to him because of his knowledge and his passion for music. That also allowed her to grow her lyrical abilities, because initially, it was more the melodies that she really was focused on. But because of Gerry Goffin's influence, she started to write, and out of that came ‘You've Got a Friend’ and ‘So Far Away’.”

Both songs were written for King’s 1971 solo release Tapestry, widely acknowledged as one of the greatest albums of all time. For her work, King became the very first solo female artist to win the Grammy Awards for Record of the Year (for “It’s Too Late”) and Song of the Year (for “You’ve Got a Friend”).

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And yet, for all the individual strength and raw emotion that went into creating Tapestry, King still felt was necessary to include three songs she wrote with her ex-husband: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” “Smackwater Jack,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” It was clear that no matter what had happened between them, she would always cherish what she and Goffin created together.

In 1987, the two were inducted together into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They were inducted together yet again in 1990 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

When Goffin passed away in 2014, just months after Beautiful made its debut Broadway, King released a statement, saying: “Gerry Goffin was my first love. He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come.”

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“His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say. If you want to join his loved ones in honoring him, look at the names of the songwriters under the titles of songs. Among the titles associated with me, you’ll often find Gerry’s name next to mine.”

Their relationship was, for all its warts and wounds, one of the most beautiful things to have happened—not just to the songwriters, but to music as a whole. In bringing their dynamic to life onstage, Rivera and Varricchio have their work cut out for them when Beautiful opens on June 14 at the Meralco Theater. Their own creative partnership, as the fictional King and Goffin, suggests that they’re on the right track.

When asked what scene she is looking forward to doing most, Rivera's response is as personal and emotional as King would’ve wanted: “The scene I think that I'm looking forward to the most is probably—I mean there's a lot!—but I'd say ‘You've Got a Friend.’ I feel like it's just so beautiful, when you part ways with friends. It always brings back feelings. I do that so many times with my friends back home, saying goodbye to my family... It really just resonates.”

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Varricchio, on the other hand, catches Rivera’s eye and smiles. “I'm excited to sing with you, actually. We have a song together: ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’.”

From the looks of things, their baby—the musical—is in good hands.

Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group's “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” directed by Bobby Garcia opens on June 14, 2019 at the Meralco Theater. Tickets are available via Ticketworld.

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Marco Sumayao
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