Tiger of the Week: Playwright Douglas McGrath ’80

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Douglas McGrath ’80 (Photo: Gasper Tringale/Courtesy Douglas McGrath)

Douglas McGrath ’80 wrote two musicals for the Triangle Club as a student at Princeton. His third — Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, about the singer-songwriter’s rise to stardom — is opening on Broadway Jan. 12 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. The show has garnered attention during previews in New York and praise for its run in San Francisco.

In working on the production, McGrath interviewed King, her ex-husband Gerry Goffin, and their fellow songwriters and friends Barry Mann (played by Jarrod Spector ’03) and Cynthia Weil. “It was quite emotional for all of them at different points, because they are talking about their youth, they’re talking about triumphs, and they are also talking about a lot of things that went wrong in their lives,” says McGrath.

A filmmaker and playwright, McGrath wrote and directed the adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma for film, as well as Nicholas Nickleby, Company Man, and Infamous. With Woody Allen, he wrote the screenplay for Bullets Over Broadway, which was nominated for an Academy Award.

McGrath listened to King and Goffin’s songs in his youth and was interested in the Brill Building, where songwriters of that era worked. The Brill Building sound, he says, really refers to two buildings on Broadway. King, Goffin, Mann, and Weill worked out of 1650 Broadway. “I was always fascinated by this idea that there was an office building … that was essentially a creative beehive,” he says,  “kids in cubicles with pianos and keyboards and desks, writing music.”

Although the natural audience for the show is King’s fan base, McGrath hopes that younger people also will see the show, because “in many ways it’s a girl empowerment story,” he says. “Out of the dissolution of [King’s] marriage, out of the worst thing that had ever happened to her, she found herself as an artist.”

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.

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