BY MARK KENNEDY AP DRAMA WRITER
The last time Broadway theatergoers got to see Chilina Kennedy, she was portraying Mary Magdalene. Now she’s returned to play someone much more contemporary — songwriter Carole King.
Kennedy replaces Jessie Mueller in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” this weekend, taking over such hits as “So Far Away” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
The Canadian actress has been on tour with “Mamma Mia!” starred in the world premiere of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” before it came to New York, and was in “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 2012 on Broadway.
As if playing King wasn’t enough, Kennedy also is juggling a few side projects — a 5-month-old son, Henry, with her partner, the actor Jacob James, and a 12-song CD of original tunes coming soon called “What You Find in a Bottle.”
The Associated Press caught up with the actress and asked about her special name, her new baby boy and how Carole King has altered her art.
AP: Your first name is unusual? Where does it come from?
Kennedy: It’s Corsican. It has nothing to do with my background, unfortunately. I can’t say I’m Corsican. My mom actually read it in a book when she was a little girl, and she and my dad have known each other since they were in grade four. So they had this name picked out since they were kids.
AP: Were you a musical baby?
Kennedy: I loved it right from the beginning. My mom always talks about the times she would play her guitar when she was pregnant with me, and my whole body would move to rest against the guitar. She would play for hours and I would lie there, enjoying the vibrations.
AP: You play the piano already. Does that help portraying King?
Kennedy: It’s sort of ironic because Carol King was always very comfortable playing — it was her voice that she was nervous about. For me it’s the opposite: I start shaking when I have to play in front of people but singing is a little easier for me. So it’s been a great exercise in confidence building.
AP: Has King influenced you as a singer-songwriter?
Kennedy: I had this melody written for, I think, about a year or two years and I didn’t know what to do with it. It felt like a Gaelic lullaby. I didn’t know what it was for and then, all of a sudden, he was born. I sat in my apartment and I write the whole thing in one night. It was a song for my son. This whole time it was brewing. So, in a way, Carole King influenced that, for sure.
AP: You’re both playing King and taking over from an actress who won a Tony. Any pressure?
Kennedy: I think the trick for me is just staying in the moment. If you think about the mountain, you can’t climb it. All you have to do is just think about the steps that are right in front of you. If I’m really doing my job, there’s no time for worrying about pressure or any of that kind of stuff. The job fills my whole being.
AP: How are you approaching King?
Kennedy: She always has a wonderful smile on her face. It’s like she’s sharing some personal secret with you every time she sings. I think if you can get that joy and that flavor, then you’ve got her. The rest is all details.
AP: Is your son growing up with music like you were?
Kennedy: He bounces around in the kitchen. We play music and we dance and we sing. He loves when I sing. I sing for him all the time. I was performing up until I was seven months pregnant. It’s funny because I play the songs that he was listening to when he was inside me and I’m sure he recognizes them.