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Producer Paul Blake Reflects On 'Beautiful' Return To Fox Theatre, Carole King And Muny Experience

Sarah Bockel performs as Carole King in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," which returns to the Fox Theatre March 12 through 17.  March 12, 2019
Joan Marcus

When “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” opens its 2019 North American tour at the Fabulous Fox Theatre Tuesday evening, it will be a bit of a homecoming for stage producer Paul Blake.

Blake, who joined host Don Marsh on Tuesday’s St. Louison the Air, spent 22 years as executive producer at the Muny. He left the Forest Park summer stage after the 2011 season while he was putting “Beautiful” together, and he told Marsh that his experience at the Muny was vital to developing the show.

“Had I not been at the Muny for 22 years, 'Beautiful' would not be what it is. Those years educated me so much,” he said.

“When I was at the Muny I was very fortunate; I was able to do only the great musicals,” Blake continued. “You start to notice, 'Wait a minute. Twenty minutes in, there's that big number.' So when we were doing this show I said, 'We're 20 minutes in, now we've got to do something. We need something to do at that moment.' We structured it a lot around some things that I'd learned all those years watching the great shows over and over and over, as I had to at the Muny. Those years were invaluable to me.”

That experience was especially important for Blake because King herself was initially reluctant to let the show happen at all. According to Blake, King did not give the official go-ahead until she attended a formal reading.

“They talked Carole into coming to the second reading, and she came and left at the intermission and never came back. So we thought, 'Well, we're dead,’” he said. “Her daughter went back to her that night and said, 'So do you want to kill it?' And Carole said, 'Look. The writing was really good. That's why I responded that way. And the people who put it together, they know what they're doing, and the audience was loving it. So I think what we should do is just turn the rights over to Paul Blake and let him get on with it.'”

Though she was ambivalent at first, “Beautiful” eventually won King over, Blake said, and she became one of its biggest supporters. Most recently, at the musical’s fifth anniversary performance on Broadway, she surprised the audience by coming out to perform the closing number herself.

Blake said that even though it has now been over five years since the musical premiered, and 50 years since King first wrote songs like “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” the public’s love of the music has not diminished.

“People's love for it and affection for it, and for Carole, just keeps growing,” he said. “I don't see it getting any less.”

Listen to the full conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Jon Lewis was the production intern at St. Louis Public Radio from January to May 2019. Originally from Pelham, New York, Jon came to St. Louis to attend Washington University in 2015. Previously, Jon has interned for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Eight by Eight, a soccer magazine based in Brooklyn.

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