Melissa Benoist broke out on television, but her original show business ideal was being where she is right now: Broadway. Her summer stint playing the lead in the long-running Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ends Saturday. The role has been an organic fit for Benoist, who grew up hearing King’s music while nurturing the ambition to one day make it to the Great White Way. “I am essentially living out my childhood dream,” Benoist said.
Beyond checking off a big professional box, though, the show’s message of female empowerment continues to resonate for Benoist as she resumes shooting Supergirl. She has taken inspiration from the real-life character. King wrote dozens of hit songs for others to sing, but then overcame personal challenges such as divorce, single motherhood and making her way in the male-dominated music industry, soon creating her masterpiece, the 1971 album Tapestry.
Interest from Benoist’s fans helped drive last week’s box office for the show to $845,619.50, up from last week’s $736,538 and $150,000 ahead of the same week a year ago. On Friday, King herself watched the performance and then joined the curtain call with a reprise of “I Feel The Earth Move.”
Taking a break between two of the eight weekly performances of Beautiful, Benoist elaborated on her experience onstage and also teased the upcoming fourth season of Supergirl. She also addressed the recent reported drug overdose by Demi Lovato, her former Glee castmate. Here are condensed and edited excepts from the conversation:
DEADLINE: When did you first connect with Carole King’s music?
BENOIST: Tapestry was the first album my mom ever bought with her own money when she was 14. So needless to say it was a staple in the household, at least when my mom was choosing the music. Both my parents are fans of hers so it was always prevalent when I was a kid. And then what I think is so wonderful about Carole’s music is that it’s so easy to relate to in terms of learning life’s lessons or going through heartbreak or tragedy or growing as a person or figuring out who you are as an adult, it means something different. She’s a genius at translating so much humanity into her songs.
DEADLINE: What can you say about the experience of being on Broadway? Would you do another show down the road?
BENOIST: I always feel very cheesy and earnest when I talk about it because it was always what I wanted to do as a kid. So I am essentially living out my childhood dream, and that’s fun. But it has given me a newfound respect for what I do for a living and kind of reignited this passion that I have. It’s so different from television. It’s so much more involved. Living out a story eight times a week is difficult and draining emotionally but very fulfilling. I will absolutely always be looking for more.
DEADLINE: Have your Supergirl fans followed you to Beautiful?
BENOIST: In the early weeks, yes. I saw a lot of Superman glyphs in the audience. Which is great. It’s so wonderful. I have also seen a lot of Glee fans because that’s obviously musical theater.
DEADLINE: A lot of people in the audience sing along — does that ever distract you?
BENOIST: I can’t really hear it, to be honest. I can hear people react when I start to play the first couple chords of a song. Particularly when I sing “It’s Too Late” or “You’ve Got a Friend,” which is a really vocal, collective sigh from the audience. At that point I know they’re probably singing along with me and they should be because the songs are so well known and so heartwarming and optimistic and full of love.
DEADLINE: You were recently at Comic-Con – how did that feel after being immersed in playing Carole for eight shows a week?
BENOIST: I think that playing Carole and learning so much about her will certainly affect how I approach Supergirl at this point. Every role affects you. I do think that heading into Season 4 and walking into Supergirl’s shoes and donning the cape will feel different in a great way, especially because Carole’s story is about, in essence, owning yourself and being true to who you are, that you are enough. That’s something I’m always searching for in Supergirl: ways to further her development as a woman and find more empowering stories to tell through that. Also, it made Comic-Con a blast. It was so great to see everyone. The cast, we all genuinely love each other. We’re really excited for the season.
DEADLINE: So what can fans look forward to this season on Supergirl?
BENOIST: The writers’ room is being really great this year. Last season, it was a lot of fire and brimstone and a lot of homages to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was great because I was such a big fan of that show. This season they really want to thematically tackle more topical stories that maybe mirror what’s going on with the state of the world and our country. There’s a lot of anti-alien sentiment at the beginning of Season 4 that Supergirl is going to have to grapple with. I think their main premise is that fear itself is a villain, and can hope conquer it? Supergirl stands for hope, so we’ll see. I think fear is her biggest opponent yet because it’s more of a wildfire-type emotion.
DEADLINE: Now that it’s been a while for you on the CW, what can you say about the shift to that network from CBS, where the show premiered?
BENOIST: It absolutely gave us a jolt of energy because I think our demographic innately got younger. There are younger people watching CBS, but their audience isn’t 13 to 25. The CW specializes in that. I totally felt the difference. We just had a little more freedom to do edgier things or stories that can help shape and mold audience perspectives and ways of thinking. That’s exciting because every day on set we’re talking about how we impact young girls specifically but more than that the young audience. What do they think about what we’re saying?
DEADLINE: There have also been reports that Glee may be revived – have you heard anything?
BENOIST: I haven’t heard anything but I would not be surprised if it happened. That show became part of the zeitgeist instantly when it came out and it was so influential. Ryan Murphy always has something wonderful up his sleeve, so I wouldn’t be surprised.
DEADLINE: Speaking of Glee, I know Demi Lovato was your castmate on that show. Do you have any thoughts about her situation?
BENOIST: I was heartbroken when I heard that news. I work a lot trying to defeat stigma around mental health and I just hope she’s OK.