The Fame Reporter interviewed theatre performer and director Johanna Allen. Johanna is the Director and Choreographer for the new production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical presented by Matt Ward Entertainment. The show is playing at the The Star Theatre, Gold Coast until 9 April.
Long before she was Carole King, the chart-topping music legend, she was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Beautiful tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit song-writing team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history…Along the way, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation!
Featuring an all-star cast and playing exclusively at The Star Gold Coast for a strictly limited season!
We sat down with Director/Choreographer Johanna Allen and talked about what enticed her to be involved in this new production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Gold Coast, how her performing career has informed her love of directing and nurturing young talent, her admiration for actress Emma Thompson’s work ethic and more.
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Johanna. What was it that sparked your interest in performing/directing initially?
I believe it is important to be both if you can. I think being a performer gives you a unique insight into how to direct. When you are a performing artist you have an instinct about the framework of what theatre should look like and what musicals should look like.
I didn’t pursue directing per say but people approached me to do it. It was a lovely gift. So when people would ask me I started to say yes and now I continue to do both, perform and direct. I feel very blessed that it was something that came into my orbit.
Continuing to be a performer gives you a unique insight into being a director and vice versa. There are lots of people who do both and I feel very privileged that I can.
What about Beautiful: The Carole King Musical enticed you to want to be involved in it?
It is a magnificent show. It has timeless songs and a story about a woman who finds her voice. The first part of her career she wrote very famous songs for other people until she found her own voice in the world as a performing artist. I think that is a wonderful story to tell, a very relevant and universal story.
It is a female experience, but it is also an experience that a lot of us relate to, the finding of our voice and the articulation of our own creativity. That was part of the story that I loved.
Against the odds of a challenging marriage and two kids Carole King managed to triumph and become a successful world-wide artist after she established a career writing for other people.
It shows that we all have many lives in us and I think that is really important because if you are pursuing a creative life sometimes it can have big ups and downs and you can feel like it’s all over if you don’t get a role. Carole thought it was all over and she went on to become one of the greatest, most successful singers of all time, after beginning in a guise where she wrote for others.
What was it like rehearsing this show and what do you love about working with this cast in particular?
I think we just have the most magnificent cast. They are brilliantly led by Julia, Stephen, Tim, Elenoa and Marcus. They are people who care as deeply as I do about making this everything it can be and that’s a really wonderful thing.
It is the best of local talent with very established heavy players in the professional musical theatre industry of Australia, so it is a fantastic combo.
What do you love about Carole’s narrative and what have learnt about self-love and female empowerment from this story?
I have been reminded of the gradient of life.
You don’t have to have everything by 21 years old and you might find your stride later in life, that is a powerful message for women.
I suppose it is a powerful message to anybody. Just because you are in a certain phase of life there’s tremendous sadness and it feels like something is ending.
All things are transient and from that great triumph can come. That is something we always need to be reminded of because when we’re on that sad day, it is very hard to not lose faith that there might be another day that you have made something thing great and you are successful. Carole’s marriage ended and she’d written with Gerry Goffin for her entire life and she had to start again as an artist in her own right. That was incredibly difficult. But boy did she triumph in the end.
I also loved that her greatest success came when she was already a mother. There is still this misconception that balancing tremendous artistic success with motherhood is too hard.
I do love that her greatest achievements came later in life as she was already a Mum of two kids. Still, she found success and managed to record and sell the greatest record of all time.
There is still a kind of messaging in our world that you are supposed to make a choice between career and motherhood, and I don’t buy it, I want both. With Carole, nothing was sacrificed, I’m sure it was very hard, but I love that she sets that example. As someone who wants to combine family life with professional success, I think it can be done. There are the Carole King’s of this world to show us how.
How has your performing career informed the way you direct and what do you love about directing Beautiful in particular?
I think my performing career has endlessly informed my directing career. You are inherently aware of whether an artist or fellow performer is comfortable or not. I know what it’s like to be in something and not necessarily have the right process to support whatever role I’ve had.
I am acutely aware of trying to give my actors the best process to allow for ownership of the role. I am also very aware when I am dealing with someone on their first professional gig because I remember how scared and terrified, I was. I want to nurture them and I want them to feel included. I want them to feel like they can take risks on stage and go for it.
We have a large cast, so we have to keep things moving but there’s room for them to flex their muscles and provide a nurturing framework in which to do that.
Matt Ward is a huge advocate for people who are finding their place in the professional performing arts world and my style of directing reflects his desire to nurture them and I hope we are giving them a positive first experience of a professional setting.
What performer dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
I love Emma Thompson because she writes, I’ve written. She adapts screenplays, like she is adapting Nanny McPhee into a stage show. She’s done musical theatre and was the lead in ‘Me and my girl’. Emma played Mrs Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd’, which is a dream role for me. She is highly intelligent and has this incredible body of work in film and television.
Emma would be my number 1 and I have tremendous admiration for her. I love how she champions young actors and for me, she has done everything I want to do.
Emma Thompson continues to work and direct as well as be an extraordinary actor later in life in her 60s and onwards. She is a brilliant advocate for how women can continue to evolve and develop in the second half of their career. I’m almost positive if we had a coffee together, we would be mates.
Has the likes of Barry Mann, Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Cynthia Weil influenced the way you think about music and how it can affect someone?
Before I started researching and getting to know the music of the show what I didn’t realise prior to that is the amount of songs they all wrote.
These incredible songs, so timeless from the very early 60s they continued to write these iconic tunes that have seeped into our consciousness. To put it onstage is a joy.
That 60s sound, this music is so gorgeous, and I love it. To live with that music and to learn about the story behind it is such a gift.
What is unique about this stage production of Beautiful, in particular at The Star?
I believe this one is more ensemble based than any other version of this story. I think the collaboration and the telling of this story and the building of the scenes by our cast makes it different. There is more dancing in this one. I am the choreographer as well as the director and I added dance numbers left, right and centre because the show calls for it.
I put more movement and ensemble work through the storytelling too which only adds further dimension, so I am proud of that.
Fame Reporter Word Play
Theatre in Queensland
Cause you are passionate about
Favourite Carole King song
Some kind of wonderful (version that Carole and Gerry sing in the show)
The Sound of Music
Mother Abbess because I played her in The Sound of Music. Singing ‘Climb every mountain’ every night is a joy I’ll never forget.
English actor – anyone tall with broad shoulders
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Mrs. Teevee, I loved playing her. She was zany, crazy, and fun.
A privilege to tell her story.
Dressing Room necessity
Savoury or Sweet
The Newsroom by Aaron Sorkin
Playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson directing.
Finally, favourite thing about directing/performing
The collaboration and sharing with fellow artists.
The Star, Gold Coast
Playing now until 9 April
The Fame Reporter Social Media