Besides writing, music is the one thing that can always, without fail, make me feel better. It also pulls people together. While most of my friends and I listen to different types of music, we have the ability to share and enjoy each other’s favorite songs. My mom and cousins are responsible for my current, eclectic love of music: from Joni Mitchell to Broadway to Of Monsters and Men.

I love Sara Bareilles. Her music is awesome and now she’s writing the music for Waitress: The Musical. Sara has gone on record saying that Carole King is one of her musical idols. And it just so happens that my mom grew up with Carole’s music like I am with Sara’s. Two musical giants came together at the 2014 Grammy’s to perform a mashup of their two hits, “Beautiful” (King) and “Brave” (Bareilles). What’s beautiful (pun not intended) about this performance is that it brings past and present and generations together.

When my friend Anika Larsen, who I met through Zanna Don’t (the reason I love musical theater), landed the role of Cynthia Weil in BEAUTIFUL: The Carole King Musical, my mom and I were so excited to see her shine—and to listen to some #1 hits while we’re at it. So, I asked Anika if she had time in her busy Broadway schedule to answer a few questions.

Interview with Anika Larsen

1. What drew you to BEAUTIFUL?

I was asked to do the first developmental reading of BEAUTIFUL about 4 years ago.  I didn’t know a thing about it.  And I didn’t think I knew who Cynthia Weil was, though of course we all know her music even if we don’t know her name.  I did two more readings after that, and had my heart set on playing this sassy, smart, wildly successful woman, so when I got the offer for Broadway, I was over the moon.

2. What is your favorite thing about being Cynthia Weil?

That is impossible to answer–I love the totality of playing Cynthia Weil, there’s no way to break it down.  I love my songs, my funny lines, my costumes, my castmates, our crew, our management, our theater.  My cup runneth over at this gig.

Anika Larsen (as Cynthia Weil) and Cynthia Weil pose for a photo on opening night of BEAUTIFUL

3. How has music impacted your life?

I have 9 brothers and sisters adopted from all over the world, and it was important to my parents that they raise us in a community that looked like my family.  So I grew up in Cambridge, MA, a proudly multicultural city with public schools that were very socioeconomically diverse.  It was at school that I learned to love music with soul, and tried to emulate mostly African-American women singers.  And I have found that because of the music I prefer to sing and listen to, I end up in groups, shows, rooms that are more diverse than I might have.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about the degree to which music is a bridge that brings cultures together.

4. Who/what was your favorite musician/band when you were 17?

I wanted to have Whitney Houston’s voice.  I still do.

5. How do you stay inspired when life gets hard?

There’s a lyric from my first Broadway show, RENT, that became the show’s tagline:  “No day but today.”  I think when you’re really able to wrap your brain around the idea that there is only this moment right here, that if you let memories from the past or worries about the future ruin it you’re just wasting this moment so you oughta just enjoy this moment the best you can, then that is deeply helpful perspective.

6. What advice would you give people looking to get involved in the creative arts?

Don’t let anyone talk you out of at least giving it a shot, because we live a long time these days, and there is plenty of time to try out one career and then shift to another.  I think there are few things sadder than “What ifs.”  Also, if you try your hand at what you most love to do, even if you don’t end up succeeding at that, you might get funneled into a different side of the creative arts industry that would also bring you joy.

And there you have it, folks! Thank you so much for doing this interview, Anika. I know I can’t wait to see BEAUTIFUL again, and hope many others see the show too.

Barry Mann (played by Jarrod Spector) and Cynthia Weil (played by Anika Larsen)
sing their song “Walking in the Rain”

And for those of you who are still unconvinced Carole King has shaped modern music, google “songs written by Carole King” and you may be surprised by how many hits she wrote and were sung by other people. Great example? Aretha Franklin sang “Natural Woman” and this past Tuesday,  Amber Patrice Riley sang the Carole King song on Glee (as her character Mercedes Jones). Watch Glee’s version of “Natural Woman.” This just goes to show that King’s music is still making a splash in the modern world.

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