Multicultural cast brings Carole King musical to life

The new musical to hit Australia focuses on the early period of Carole King’s life when she wrote hit songs for groups, including The Shirelles and The Drifters.

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It is the first time Marcus Corowa has played a role that is not specifically for an Indigenous character.

“Sometimes as an Aboriginal person and a South Sea Islander person we kind of get pigeonholed in just telling our own story, but there’s more to us than that,” he said.

Corowa is one of 24 cast members in one of the most diverse ensembles to take the stage in Australia for the Carole King musical.

Akina Edmunds had considered being Maori something of a curse in musical theatre. Now she understands it as a blessing.

“Being part of a cast that has people from Tonga [and] Samoa, and being Maori, it’s really heartening to know that I still have a home here,” she said.

“I think it was more over time where I went that actually it’s kinda good that I don’t look like everyone else or sound like everyone else.

“It means I’ll miss out on a few but the special ones that I’ve found myself a part of are really amazing productions.”

King was reluctant to see the show when it opened on Broadway three years ago, but is now a fan and the legendary singer-songwriter personally approved the Australian actress who plays her.

The Shirelles and The Drifters had big hits with songs written by King and her first husband, Gerry Collins.

“They gave work to people who at that point in pop history were often relegated to R&B stations, they weren’t as much in the mainstream,” musical writer Douglas McGrath said. 

The show’s writer said the mix of ethnicities in the Australian version reflects the couple’s groundbreaking work.

“Carole and Gerry were two Jewish middle-class kids who had no prejudice about anything. They wanted the best people to sing and perform their songs,” McGrath said.

The cast is hoping more directors and casting agents follow the show’s lead on diversity.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical opens in Sydney on Saturday.