Chicago native is ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ in Carole King musical


Courtesy Broadway in Chicago

Chicago native is ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ in Carole King musical

By Molly Walsh

Sarah Bockel, now the star of the acclaimed musical “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” started out as the typical high school theater enthusiast: helping with costumes, makeup and performing on stage at St. Ignatius College Prep in shows like “Honk!,” the musical adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling.” After high school in University Village, Bockel graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. She plays Grammy-winning singer/songwriter King in the show’s national tour currently at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Jan. 28.

The Chronicle spoke with Bockel about her experience playing Carole King, performing in Chicago, and when she feels the most beautiful.

THE CHRONICLE: How did you learn to take on Carole King’s mannerisms?

SARAH BOCKEL: I always loved her music and was a big fan of her. I was like, “God, that would be an amazing show to do and [would] be so fun. I wish I could audition for that some day.” A couple years later, my agent, who didn’t even represent me at the time, said, “I think you would be really great for beautiful and I think we should make a video.” We made a video and sent it to the casting director and they liked me enough to actually call me to New York City, so I went to New York City three times to audition for it. 

I originally got the understudy. I understudied two different women who played Carole from 2015 to February 2017. I understudied Abby Mueller for the first year, and watching her made me a better actor. The opportunity to watch her do the show every night, I’m just so grateful for it. She was so herself and so Carole at the same time it taught me how to do that. The role is really amazing because it allows you to be yourself, keep a lot of yourself in that role and the women they tend to cast in the role tend to be pretty self-effacing, able to laugh at themselves, humble and kind women. I also watched YouTube videos of Carole and listen to her music a lot and read her book but it’s really ultimately has to come from a place that is you. 

How does Carole King resonate with you? 

I definitely aim to be like her from the lyrics of “Beautiful,” [which say] “you’ve got to wake up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all of the love in your heart..” I try to inspire kindness to other people. I fail often, just like everybody, but people can walk out of the theater and that note can resonate with them to keep being kind even if the world is slapping you in the face. Just stay open, stay present and keep giving yourself to people. That’s my biggest take a way from her life. 

How has Chicago theater shaped you as an artist?

I definitely learned you cannot fake it. You can, but you need to get better. I love Chicago theater because it tends to focus on the realness of the work and the art itself; it is not so much of a money-making machine like New York City can tend to be. Being an actor in the city really encouraged me to keep working on my artistry as an actor. I started taking classes at Black Box, the Black Box School, a Meisner technique class started by Audrey Francis. She is amazing on stage, when you see Steppenwolf [Theater] and Goodman [Theater] and Shakesphere Theatre [shows], you want to be better, you want to give more of yourself, be more vulnerable and I am really happy I have that work ethic now because you can get complacent really easily. 

How has performing for your hometown audience been?

It has been amazing. It is a lot of pressure though. I feel I want to do it justice; I want to make them proud and show my dedication to acting and singing. There is one line I say in the show, “Being here tonight is like being home again,” at the top of the show, and I kind of well up every night when I get to say that to the audience. 

When do you feel the most beautiful?

I feel beautiful when I come out at the end in the dressing room scene wearing my blue dress and my long hair. I feel like Carole has made her transformation and she doesn’t know how she looks yet, I don’t think it is until after Jerry, her ex-husband, comes in and says “You’re going all the way,” that she is like “Yeah, I actually I am going all the way and I am ready to do this.” I feel the most beautiful in real life when I am with friends, when we are out and we are somewhere where there is no pictures being taken.