In 1963, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (with help from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) wrote On Broadway, a hit for the Drifters (and, later, George Benson). The song is now part of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which made its premiere on the Great White Way in 2014. So, the question to Weil and Mann is this: Are the neon lights on Broadway actually bright? "They are," Mann says, on the phone from Los Angeles with his songwriting-partner wife. "They absolutely are."
The lights are also bright at Ed Mirvish Theatre, which is where the jukebox musical Beautiful (featuring the songs of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, as well as those of Weil and Mann) has set up shop. We spoke to the team behind such hits as We Gotta Get Out of This Place, You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin, Here You Come Again and others about their career and their relationship with Goffin and King.
You guys had plenty of hits and some of them are in Beautiful, so why does Carole King get all the glory?
Weil: Well, Carole is far better known than we are. We're behind-the-scenes people. But the musical actually started out as a story about the four of us. When we did a reading, we could see that the focus needed to be on Carole. So, we became Ethel and Fred to their Lucy and Desi.
For purposes of the musical, I get that. But what was your relationship with Gerry and Carole actually like back then?
Weil: We were all just songwriters, until Carole did her Tapestry album in 1971. We were friends and fierce competitors. We loved them and we hated them every time they stole a record from us. And they felt the same way about us.
By stealing a record, do you mean when a major artist recorded a song written by Carole and Gerry instead of one of yours?
Weil: Exactly. We would be writing for the same artists. If they got the record and we didn't, we considered it a tragedy.
To get back to Carole's Tapestry album. When the singer-songwriter rose to prominence, with people such as James Taylor and Elton John, was that earth-shattering for you guys? People singing their own songs, instead of yours?
Mann: No. We continued to write hits into the seventies and eighties.
But it was a big shift in the music business, right?
Mann: Yes, it was. I tried at one point during that period to make it as an artist. I didn't do it right. I think I tried to copy a lot of the artists that were making it at that time, instead of just writing what I liked. I would have been better off doing that.
Cynthia, can you talk about working in the songwriting business back then, as a woman?
Weil: Carole and I didn't even think about it. We just did what we did and moved ahead. I know that people talk about us breaking the glass ceiling back then. I think Carole had more people surprised that she was the music writer, as opposed to the man being the music writer. But we just wrote our songs.
Was there a point in your career when you realized that some of your songs were going to have a life beyond the charts or whatever was popular in the moment?
Weil: It was something Phil Spector said to us, about You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin. He said that it was going to be a very important song. I told him any song with "woh, woh, woh" in it can't be important. But it ended up being the most-played song of the last century.
What's the feeling you get now, when you think about how your songs have stood the test of time, as opposed to when they were on the charts?
Mann: It's a validation of our talent and the kind of songs we wrote. It feels like a big deal to us. We happened to write songs that became standards. And I'm proud of that.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs June 27 to Sept. 3. $55 to $200. Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St., 416-872-1212 or mirvish.com