The Fame Reporter interviewed Australian West End theatre performer Julia Dray. Julia is currently starring as Carole King in 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 Australian West End performer Julia Dray and talked about what enticed her to be involved in this new production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Gold Coast, how thrilled she was to find out she would be playing Carole King after understudying her in the past, what she loves about Carole’s music and more.
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Julia. What was it that sparked your interest in performing initially?
My mother was in the theatre, and I grew up in Perth around a company called Black Swan. I was running in and out of backstage and watching shows my whole life, so I always thought I was going to get up on stage and do that one day.
What about Beautiful: The Carole King Musical enticed you to want to be involved in it having been in the show previously and how did you react when you were cast in the leading role of music icon Carole King?
The music is what I loved most about the show. I think Carole’s music I can listen to every night, and I can sing it repeatedly, I can never get bored of it because it brings up so many emotions and is so relatable.
Getting cast as Carole was a huge moment because this show and this role has been with me for years and years since I first saw the show in 2015.
I have understudied Carole and when I found out I had actually landed the role finally after all of this time, it was overwhelming.
I thought this was going to be an opportunity to fully embody the character and do my version, honour the role, and honour the show. Then I would move on from it and tie up my experience and my relationship with the production.
How are rehearsals going so far, what do you love about working with this cast in particular?
The cast is incredible. Everyone brings so much life and joy to the room. There is so much laughter, it is fantastic. We have big goals; it is a big production. We have a short amount of time everyone is super focused and working really hard.
Despite that pressure, I think that everyone is still bringing such a positive fun attitude to the room every day. So, it is just a joy.
What do you love about Carole’s narrative and what have learnt about self-love and female empowerment from this story?
Carole herself was one of those people who was so confident in her work and in the songs that she wrote at an incredibly young age. It was amazing the output that she had and how she understood emotions and love, that she was able to convey that through her music at a very young age.
Carole herself didn’t quite know how to turn that love around for herself in the beginning. She didn’t know how to come into her own power and stand up for herself and put herself front and centre in her music. She was always writing for other people.
So, I love that arc by the end of the show she is recording her own album in her own voice, and she has grown up into someone who can stand up as an independent artist and independent woman without a man. So, I think that is a wonderful story for women everywhere.
What do you love about the Australian theatre scene and what’s different about performing on London’s West End?
I think we have incredibly talented, hard-working, hungry performers and creatives. The reality is opportunities are fewer here [in Australia], we have less theatres and we haven’t valued the arts as highly perhaps historically in comparison to overseas.
I think that just means when performers and creatives get the opportunity to do a show here we give 110% to every single piece of it. We are very precise, energetic, passionate and the shows that we put on are of an incredibly high standard.
It is wonderful in the United Kingdom to perform because there is more of a breadth of different types of shows and opportunities to develop new work and that’s what is so lovely about working in a culture that has a high regard and high funding for the arts.
We produce incredible quality work [in Australia] we just need to keep supporting it and building and growing our industry and our unique voice.
I hope we go down a path in Australia where we keep valuing and keep allocating funds to the arts and keep supporting new work, particularly new Australian writing as well.
What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Carole King. She has such a beautiful, warm, loving spirit. It would be wonderful to sit opposite her at a table and feel that. Freddie Mercury. What a superstar. John Lennon. Just to find out what was going on in that incredible songwriting brain of his.
What do you think the most challenging and rewarding part will be about playing Carole King?
I think the most challenging part, and this is something we discussed in rehearsal, finding a balance between a woman who has a lot of strength in one aspect of her life and has a lot of vulnerability in another.
Not appearing to be a victim or not appearing to be weak, just finding the real nuance in the different ways we find strength and vulnerability as a woman. Not playing it too soft, shy and like a victim from the beginning. That’s my biggest challenge in the arc of the show.
The most rewarding part is getting to sing those songs every night. It is a really magical experience of getting to go through her whole musical journey of the songs that she wrote when she was younger to the music she recorded for Tapestry.
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?
I already had a sense I suppose as a music theatre performer and singer of how music has the ability to tap into so much emotion. So much more than words, you can hear a note or chord and it stirs up something in you and you wonder why it does that. Why does that sound do this?
I think what is inspiring about looking at the stories of Barry, Carole, Gerry, and Cynthia is that perseverance of keeping going. Maybe you write a crappy song one day and ten people turn it down. You’ll go to the eleventh person, maybe they’ll accept it.
The huge repertoire that they wrote, it wasn’t like they wrote one song and thought ‘oh cool I wrote a great song’, they just kept writing and writing. They thought about the artists they were writing for.
They varied their sound to capture the mood and politics of the time. They were so prolific. It is about if you fail just keep trying and eventually you are going to hit.
What is unique about this stage production of Beautiful, in particular at The Star?
What’s really unique about this one, is our director has found very creative ways to reimagine the staging of this show. When you have certain constraints, you can find more magic. If you don’t get to have all of the big Hollywood budget things, you can find even more beautiful ways to tell a story and I think that’s what we are finding in this production. It is still an enormous production.
The Star theatre is stunning and has a huge space. We have to find a way to bring the ensemble in to so many more moments in the show where they can create scenes and paint pictures. It is a real collaborative production.
Fame Reporter Word Play
The Carole King Musical
Theatre in Queensland
Cause you are passionate about
Favourite Carole King song
Will you still love me tomorrow
Dressing Room necessity
Savoury or Sweet
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A trip to Greece
Finally, favourite thing about performing
The friends that you make
The Star, Gold Coast
Playing now until 9 April
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