Paul Blake, who started out as an actor and is now a prolific Broadway producer, is bringing Beautiful — The Carole King Musical to the Fisher Theatre Jan. 4-9, 2022.
Growing up in the Bronx, Paul Blake had never experienced antisemitism. His classmates in high school and City College of New York were all Jewish.
“I never thought about it,” said Blake, who started out as an actor and is now a prolific Broadway producer bringing Beautiful — The Carole King Musical to the Fisher Theatre Jan. 4-9, 2022.
Like all struggling actors, he’d go on countless auditions and look for ways to make supplemental income.
“I was a character actor with a very heavy New York accent, so there were lots of roles that I couldn’t play,” he said.
As an ironic twist, the self-professed “skinny, short kid” got cast as Santa at a local bank.
“Three days into the job, I got fired because ‘Santa Claus isn’t Jewish,’ the manager told me. I was shocked. I called up the human resources person and said, ‘There’s a woman who is antisemitic working at the bank.’”
Blake worked as an actor for seven years until his girlfriend’s mother encouraged him to take a directing job at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a Reform synagogue in New York City’s Upper West Side.
“And that was the turning point of my life when I found my real career,” said Blake. “My acting teacher who came to the show said that I could be a director for a living. And the rabbi who saw the show told me ‘You need to go work at the Catskills and be with our people.’
“Working with all of those people, I became very cognizant of my Jewish background and heritage. I picked up Yiddish and became a showbiz Jew,” Blake laughs.
A ‘Jewish Success Story’
That was over 60 years ago. Since then, Blake was the executive producer of the St. Louis Muny for 22 seasons where he produced and/or directed more than 150 shows. He left the Muny in 2011 to begin development of the new musical, Beautiful, based on the early life and career of singer/songwriter Carole King. King changed her name from Carol Joan Klein in high school. She’s written more than 118 pop hits on Billboard’s Hot 100.
“Carole grew up in Queens at the same time that I was growing up in the Bronx,” said Blake who, at age 80, is one year older than King. “The entire world of Beautiful—The Carole King Musical is all about Jewish kids growing up and making their careers in New York City. It’s a Jewish success story.”
And successful it is. The Tony and Grammy Award-winning Beautiful — The Carole King Musical was the 27th longest-running musical in Broadway history when it closed after nearly six years in October 2019 just before the pandemic. The touring production was originally scheduled to play at the Fisher Theatre in May 2020 and was rescheduled to Jan. 4-9, 2022. It resumed touring last month in Chicago. Blake said that he’s in talks to bring the show back to Broadway as well as make a film adaptation with Sony Pictures and Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman as co-producers.
“We are thrilled to be coming back to Detroit,” says Blake. “This is a total Equity production because we insist on the highest standards and want to give the audience the best show that we can.”
The Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) is the performers and stage managers union that protects actors’ rights, provides fair pay, benefits and work environments including strict adherence to safety and covid protocols. This North American tour of Beautiful — The Carole King Musical features many of the cast members from the Broadway production. Sara Sheperd, who is Jewish, understudied the role of Carole King on Broadway and takes on the title character in this production.
“Beautiful is filled with music that you grew up with — the soundtrack of your youth, if you’re over 45,” says Blake. “The audience is going to have a wonderful time.”
Beautiful — The Carole King Musical runs Jan. 4-9, 2022, at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit. Tickets start at $39 (including facility and parking fees) and can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-982-2787 or in person at the Fisher Theatre Box Office.