Jacob Heimer plays real-life hitmaker Barry Mann in BEAUTIFUL
BEAUTIFUL—THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL focuses on a young New York City composer, who would become one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century, and her relationship with the lyricist Gerry Goffin, who would become, over the course of a decade, her boyfriend, her husband, the father of her children, and her ex-husband.
But the musical, which comes to Eisenhower Auditorium for seven performances February 19–24, is all the more absorbing because it includes portrayals of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, rival songwriters and friends of King-Goffin. In addition to featuring a boatload of King-Goffin collaborations, BEAUTIFUL includes hit songs such as “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and “Walking in the Rain” penned by Weil-Mann for singing stars of the 1960s and beyond.
“We all know Carole King, and this show does a wonderful job at portraying sides of Carole King we didn’t know, including her early days as a really serious songwriter for huge ’60s acts like The Shirelles and The Drifters,” Jacob Heimer, who plays Mann in the BEAUTIFUL national tour, tells Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent. “But we don’t know the stories or the faces or the names of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to give a little music education to crowds that will eat it up.”
Heimer, a Syracuse University graduate who grew up in Connecticut and lives in Brooklyn, has been portraying the composer Mann since August 2017. Alison Whitehurst plays lyricist Weil in this season of the touring Broadway show.
“Alison is a joy. … She’s such a wonderful partner to be with on stage every night because we’re each other’s scene partner in every scene, so I can really trust her on stage,” Heimer tells the Exponent.
Mann and Weil have written popular songs for an array of singers for more than fifty years. A blogger for GoHomePhillyBlog.com asks Heimer about his favorites. “I know it’s obvious,” he replies, “but how amazing is the Righteous Brothers version of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’? It still kills me. Other favorites include ‘Bless You’ (Tony Orlando), all of their songs for The Drifters (‘On Broadway,’ ‘I’ll Take You Home’), ‘I Love How You Love Me,’ The Ronettes singing ‘Walking in the Rain,’ ‘Kicks’ (Paul Revere). Shall I go on? I mean, they wrote for the Walker Brothers! The Animals!”
In the following Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State interview, conducted during a BEAUTIFUL tour stop in Cleveland, Heimer talks about how he came to know Mann’s music and the Man(n) himself.
QUESTION: Unlike most of the roles you’ve played, in BEAUTIFUL you’re portraying a real person and a person who’s still alive. Did you know about Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil as songwriters before you started in BEAUTIFUL?
ANSWER: You’ve heard “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” whether it’s your generation, your dad’s generation. My high school band covered a song that Barry Mann wrote before he even met Cynthia Weil, and I didn’t realize it was his song. I just loved that song. I knew about them as a couple, but only through their music.
Q: When you get cast in a national tour, do you get a chance to meet them?
A: We got really lucky. … They came to California to watch our show. And we got to meet them afterwards. We were not told until afterwards that they were there, which was probably a blessing in disguise because then I performed without having an anxiety attack on stage, which I think is good for everybody. They were so great. There were these great books about the Brill Building, about the 1650 Building, on and on, and all that stuff. So to be able to go from reading about them, and seeing what they were like as “kids” through the eyes of the people who were around them or even quotes from them at that time, to then see what they’re like now as this couple who’s still writing material and still deeply in love, it was just beautiful.
Q: How do you approach playing people when it’s a true story? You said you read about them. You did research that way. But is there an attempt to evoke them in spirit? You certainly don’t want to mimic them.
A: I’m not playing Carole King. Because Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are not really public figures in the same way, even though Barry Mann had some hits as a singer, I’m not worried about people thinking that I’m a perfect copy of what he really looks like and sounds like. I happen to look a little like him when he was younger, which is lucky for me, and I’m sure more than half the reason I got the role. I get to go off the book I’ve read, the man I imagine, and the (show’s) book that was created by Doug McGrath, which gives you a lot of the specifics. To me it was only an additional plus that we could look up who they were in real life, with all the added stuff I would normally do for a show while looking how to build a character.
Q: Your (Weil and Mann) characters add so much life and humor to the story. Are they really that funny? Barry, especially, the deadpan hypochondriac thing is just hilarious.
A: I don’t know about the deadpan hypochondriac stuff in his real life. However, you have to watch these videos (on YouTube). When Barry gets behind a piano and he’s trying to talk about the history of their own songwriting, the way Cynthia corrects him, the way they are the perfect couple in ways, “Oh, I get it, they’ve been writing songs for over forty years, and they have been in love with each other forever.” You get it immediately, and it’s hilarious and heartwarming at the same time. I think it’s what they tried to create in the show.
John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.