NEW YORK -- Over the years, the Broadway show about singer-songwriter Carole King has starred powerful singers in the title role. But until now it hasn't had one thing -- a singer-songwriter.

Vanessa Carlton has bravely stepped into the role of the legendary King without much musical theater experience but lots from being a young woman songwriter trying to discover her own voice.

Carlton, who has had ups and downs since her breakout 2002 single, "A Thousand Miles," read the script for "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" and cried. Then she thought of her own life.

"I thought, 'OK there's something here that I think I can bring myself. I can bring some of my own essence to this and maybe it will make it better somehow or different or feel different or bring some kind of unique energy to it that will be cool.'"

"Beautiful" is based on King's life from when she was a teenage songwriter in New York to her time as a wife, mother and co-author of scores of recognizable songs, including "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

Though King and Carlton created music in different eras, the younger singer-songwriter easily recognized similar experiences: the stress of auditioning a song, being a young woman in the music industry, the need to manage men's feelings, the frustrations and joys of the creative process, and being a working mom.

"It's the story of someone taking great risk," Carlton said. "I really wanted to help honor the arc of the story. But I do have a lot of personal experiences that I am channeling in a lot of the scenes."

Carlton is still somewhat shocked to be making her Broadway debut. She may have attended many shows growing up in New York, but she studied ballet and piano, not musical theater.

"It was emotional for me to get through the show the first time," she said. "It's a lot of work. And it was so exhilarating. And it just kind of worked out. I just cried at the end. 'I did it! Now I have to do it 79 more times. How is this going to happen?'"

Mike Bosner, a rising young Broadway producer, wooed Carlton for over a year to come aboard his "Beautiful," convinced she could add something special to the role by pulling on real feelings. "She's bringing something to it that no one else could because she's actually lived this," he said.

Carlton's Broadway pit stop marks another fascinating turn in the career of the 38-year-old whose debut album, "Be Not Nobody," earned three Grammy nominations, including record of the year and song of the year.

"I was really a young female artist packaged as a pop star and I was trying to follow the rules and I got to a point where I just ran out of juice," she said. "I kind of hit that ceiling within myself as an artist in like 2010, where I was like 'I can't create music the way I've been doing it. I need to change everything.'"

She started over, releasing the independent "Rabbits on the Run" in 2011 and the admired album "Liberman" in 2015. She submitted the demo to "Liberman" to her current label, Dine Alone Records, anonymously so that no prior baggage would cloud its evaluation.

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