With hits like Natural Woman, Chains, Take Good Care of My Baby and The Loco-Motion, Carole King’s music has touched millions of lives over generations, including the Blackout Theatre’s leading lady, Elisa Vitagliani.
Classically trained Vitagliani, 29, who stars as Carole King in Blackout’s latest production, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, was drawn to the role through a personal connection to King’s songs.
Ahead of the opening night, FOCUS caught up with Vitagliani to discuss her admiration for King, the future of the entertainment industry in the face of COVID-19 and the importance of community theatre for the development of young actors.
Q: How long have you been performing and how did you start?
A: I was privileged enough to start singing and dancing lessons when I was four years old and I’ve recently completed my Grade 8 AMEB qualifications in Classical High Voice and I’ve also trained at NIDA and with international theatre company, Harvest Rain in Brisbane.
I got into community theatre when I was five when I starred as Gretl von Trapp in The Sound of Music. I think I’ve done about twenty shows over the course of my life. It’s been all different roles and I’ve only had about three or four lead roles. This is my biggest because it’s not just a lead role, it’s a headlining role.
Q: What drew you to the role of Carole King?
A: I think the reason why I was so drawn to Carole’s character is because I went through a similar experience to her with an ex-partner a couple of years ago and during that time I listened to Carole’s music and it got me through that time.
Carole King met Gerry Goffin in high school and they got married at 17 and had a kid soon after that. She really went through the motions with Gerry. She was a bit more family focused and happy to write behind the scenes whereas Gerry wanted to be cutting-edge. He got into drugs and had a few affairs and it all spiralled out of control and then she left him, and as a result of their break up and finding herself again, that’s where Tapestry was born.
When I read the storyline for the musical, it was like a mirror of what had happened in my breakup and I thought ‘Wow, I can really bring something genuine to this role’. It’s been really therapeutic to see my own growth, so I kind of feel like I have a personal connection with Carole and with the story. Carole’s song, It’s Too Late is probably my favourite song from the show because it’s a break up song with a meaning along the lines of: ‘We don’t fit anymore, we’ll be happy again just not together’ and ‘I wish you well but it’s too late to recover it.’
Q: What can the audience expect from the show?
A: They can expect a vibrant cast who are determined to produce an immaculate production and give Carole’s story what it deserves. The musical is so much more than a jukebox musical with all these wonderful hits – it’s truly a story of someone’s development and success in the eve of trauma that I think everyone in their lives has or will experience in some form.
A benefit of COVID is that we were able to give the show more time. Community theatre usually only has a six month rehearsal period so we’ve had this extra year to really refine the characters and to build on scenes that otherwise would’ve been quite simple. We really have had the opportunity to give it more depth than we would have been able to pre-COVID.
Q: COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on the entertainment industry, especially during the lockdown period for NSW in 2020, which saw the closure of theatres and other performance spaces. What are your thoughts on the future of the entertainment industry in regards to COVID-19?
A: I think because we had that year of depravation from shows and being able to perform, people are so much more excited to get back out there. When something is gone, you obviously appreciate it more when it comes back so I think the entertainment industry in general is going to have such a big following and a huge boost post-COVID. I feel like people used to say ‘Oh I’ll go to it next time’ but now they understand there may not be a next time or the next time may not be as tangible as they expected it to be. The fact that we could just shut down a country was insane so I think people will have more enthusiasm going forward to go support and be a part of the arts and appreciate what it brings to society.
Q: What do you think the life and career of Carole King has captivated audiences since the musical first appeared on Broadway in 2014?
A: Carole brought that human element to the performance industry because her music is so heartfelt and personal to her and because it’s so stripped back. She was never standing there in a big costume; she only cared about putting her soul into that song. It wasn’t about the performance, it was about telling the story, and I think that’s why her music, especially the Tapestry album is still resonating with audiences 50 years on. Pick up a song from Tapestry and it will always be relevant. The struggles that people have are intergenerational – they may be different struggles but the overall themes like belonging, love and success are the same themes, they’re just explored differently.
Q: Do you have any advice for upcoming performers who want to get involved?
A: My advice is if performing makes you happy right now then just get out there and do it, just have a go. There are people out there who will always support you. If there are young performers in the area who are finding it tricky to break into anything professional, go find your local community theatre. They’ll always have a production going and you don’t have to get the lead role, just enjoy the process. Get in there, have a look of what it’s like back stage production wise. I think that whole process from start to finish despite what part you’re playing is really important.
Half of the cast of Beautiful hasn’t had any formal training, they’ve just been self-taught through this whole rehearsal process and that’s really spectacular. They’ve done all these community shows and they’ve been able to develop and refine a skill. So with or without the accessibility to singing or drama lessons, community theatre really does bring that ability for people to develop a passion and refine a skill as well. It’s the best way to learn.
Don’t miss out on Elisa and the Blackout Theatre cast’s heartfelt performance of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which will be showing from 14th – 16th May 2021 at the Pioneer Theatre. To get tickets, visit www.pioneertheatre.com.au.