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Carole singing; Actress Bronte Barbe is heading back to the Birmingham Hippodrome to reprise her lead role in Beautiful - Carole King Musical. She talks to DIANE PARKES about preparing for the role and being in TV's Over The Rainbow My mum told me to buy the Carole King album Tapestry and I really fell in love with it... so many incredible songs.

WHEN Bronte Barbe applied to take part in the television show Over The Rainbow, she was hoping to clinch the part of Dorothy in the musical The Wizard of Oz - but Bronte found a whole different pot of gold at the end of her rainbow.

She may not have been the winner in the 2010 Andrew Lloyd Webber talent search but finalist Bronte won in lots of other ways as her time with the programme helped her carve out her own career path as an actress.

Now playing the lead role in the tour of the Carole King musical Beautiful, Bronte has no doubts that being a contestant on the show has helped her a great deal in building her profile and learning the business.

"I had a place at Mountview Academy of Arts when I was 18 but there was no way my family could afford to send me at the time so I was waiting to see if I had got a scholarship," she recalls. "And then my next-door neighbour popped round and said 'I've seen this in the paper' and it was an article about the competition for Dorothy.

"Initially I wasn't going to go for it because I didn't think it would be my thing but I did go and then of course I went on to be part of the television show.

"I would definitely do it again. I met so many amazing people. There were casting directors who were involved in the musical industry who supported me completely, even after the training. After the show I got a scholarship to Mountview but I was also TURN TO NEXT PAGE FROM PAGE 39 supported by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Foundation and that really helped because I was training in London so I'm not sure I would have managed without it - so I do owe a lot to that."

As well as the practical support, being part of a television series also helped Bronte be ready for the showbusiness spotlight.

"I think it also helps you prepare a bit for the industry. The tiny glimpse of fame that I had makes you realise how people can perceive you and how it can change your life. So I think it made me realise that you have to be as completely authentic as you can - and how important it is to keep your sense of self and keep your head screwed on.

"It was a really interesting part of my life and I was so well looked after on it. It was a fantastic opportunity for a little girl from Macclesfield!" After completing her studies at Mountview, Bronte gained a part in the UK tour of Shrek, going on to play the lead role of Princess Fiona. Earlier this year she was in the West End production The Wild Party and in July it was announced she would play Carole King in the UK tour of Beautiful.

Based on the early career of Carole King, Beautiful was a huge hit on Broadway and the West End. King, a composing legend, penned chart-topping hits including Take Good Care of My Baby, You've Got a Friend, Up on the Roof, The Loco-Motion and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman in the 1960s before building a successful career as a singer songwriter.

Bronte was really keen to play King on stage.

"It was Carole's music which attracted me to the show," she says. "Going on stage and being able to sing those songs every night is so nice but the story is also really powerful.

"I saw Beautiful in its second year in London and thought how good it was as a musical. It has a great script, in some ways it's more like a play with songs than a musical. I was on tour with the musical Shrek at the time so Beautiful wasn't anything I thought I would ever get a look in for and then this tour came around and I am so chuffed to have got the part. I never thought I would be playing Carole King."

Bronte was familiar with Carole's music well before she went to see Beautiful.

"I got a record player about four or five years ago and it was my mum who said I had to get Carole King's album Tapestry because it's so great. Then I moved in with some friends and that was the album we played - in fact we probably overplayed it!

"But I really fell in love with it - I couldn't believe all these incredible songs on this one album. Tapestry is an iconic album and that was what first got me really interested in Carole King. And then you realise there are so many songs which you've heard on the radio which she wrote. I hadn't been aware they were hers.

"So I knew quite a bit of her music before I went to see Beautiful but I didn't really know much about her personal life. I knew she was in a songwriting duo but that was about it."

That songwriting duo was Carole and her husband Gerry Goffin. Together they created songs for a host of top acts including Little Eva, Bobby Vee, The Drifters, Earl-Jean and Aretha Franklin.

After King and Goffin divorced in the late 1960s, Carole developed a highly successful solo career, recording more than 20 albums. Tapestry, which she recorded in 1971, topped the US charts and won a host of Grammys, going on to become a classic with more than 25 million copies sold worldwide.

In more recent years King has written songs for and collaborated with internationally renowned artists including Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige, Steve Tyler and K D Lang. Although now officially retired from music, 75-year-old King is still a hugely influential figure and one of her most recent performances was at a benefit concert for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. So, with her eyes firmly fixed on gaining the part of Carole, Bronte began swotting up.

"When I was auditioning I watched so many documentaries and YouTube videos. And I read Carole King's book which is really interesting, she is such an incredible person. She's quite inspirational really. Once I knew I had the part I really tried to immerse myself in Carole King!" Playing a real-life character does have its challenges.

"I think there is some pressure as she is so incredible and you need to uphold that," says Bronte. "It is very different from playing a role like Princess Fiona in Shrek who isn't a real person.

"I wanted to make sure I wasn't doing an impression of Carole King, more of an interpretation, because you can't mimic what someone is like. If you're just being an impersonator you don't need a musical. The show is more about delivering the music and reminding the audience about how fantastic she is than actually being her.

"But I hope people who watch the show do come away saying 'she did sound a bit like Carole King,' so I do constantly watch videos of her to top myself up!

"When you are singing it's a bit of you and a bit of Carole. We went through the songs putting in 'Carolisms' as we call them to make sure we give that Carole King lilt to the singing but it still has to be my voice, with some of me shining through - hopefully."

And Bronte says Carole's songs always strike a note not just with the audience but also with her as she is performing them.

"I absolutely love You've Got a Friend - it never fails to get me, it's so emotional. And I love singing It's Too Late because it's such a beautiful song. But there are challenges to singing them all. It's the range of singing in the show which is difficult because you start so young and then you develop through the show. Beautiful played Birmingham Hippodrome for a week in November and ticket sales were so successful the musical is returning for another week between January 31 and February 3. "Birmingham was fantastic," says Bronte. "I remember the audiences being great there with Shrek and it really was a joy to do Beautiful there. Birmingham is such a theatre hub and we felt so welcome. The audiences were very responsive, they were up on their feet at the end. It was great and I'm really looking forward to being back there again."

The tiny glimpse of fame that I had makes you realise how people can perceive you and how it can change your life Bronte Barbe


Bronte in Over The Rainbow

Carole King on stage in 2007

Bronte Barbe loves playing singer-songwriter Carole King in musical Beautiful.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 19, 2018
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