As a high school student in New York, young Carol Klein changed her name to Carole King. She set out to become a songwriter at age 16, but got pregnant and married her songwriting partner, lyricist Gerry Goffin, at 17.
And at age 18, in 1960, she had her first No. 1 hit, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by the Shirelles.
“She got a lot done” in a short time, said Douglas McGrath, author of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which opened its pre-Broadway run Tuesday, Sept. 24 in San Francisco. It opens in New York in January.
McGrath, a New York screenwriter, film director and playwright, envies King’s rapid progress. He started work on “Beautiful” five years ago, when he was recruited to turn King’s long list of hit songs into a stage musical.
King is the most famous of four hit-making songwriters McGrath interviewed extensively while writing the story for the musical.
The others are King’s contemporaries from the 1960s, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (who wrote “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and more) and Goffin, King’s husband until 1968, when they divorced.
“I knew I wanted the show to be about the songwriters,” McGrath said. “I didn’t want to write a show like ‘Mama Mia’ (based on the hits of the group ABBA), which takes a song catalog and creates a fictional story around it. I was interested in how these writers created so many hits.”
The show follows the lives and careers of King (played by Jessie Mueller) and the others through the 1960s and ’70s, also dealing with King’s troubled marriage to Goffin.
“They got married very young,” McGrath said.
By the time King recorded her Grammy-winning solo album, “Tapestry” in 1971, best-known for the hit single, “It’s Too Late,” she was already established as a top songwriter.