From the first few bars of the tune, A Thousand Miles can easily be distinguished. 2001 was a golden year for singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton because it was the same year that her first single was released. That single would go on to be Carlton’s most popular song to date, and it’s also become one of the most popular—and arguably best songs to ever make it out of the early 2000s. The song has been covered hundreds of times, and it has made Carlton into a household name in the pop industry. Since the debut of A Thousand Miles and Carlton’s first album, Be Not Nobody, in 2001, Carlton released a few hit singles and albums, but none of them ever reached the magnitude of her first release. According to this article from Vox Magazine, Billboard called that song “one of the most enduring songs of the millennium.”
In many ways, the song overshadowed Carlton as an artist, and it became bigger than she was at the time. In an interview from Spin.com, Carlton believed she got signed on too early. She claimed that she probably would have done things differently given what she knows now. She felt the pressure coming at her from all angles, and she turned to substance use in order to cope with all the tension of fame and success. She released four other albums from 2004 until 2015, and she did shows from time to time. But she never overcame what she established with A Thousand Miles.
In a slow progression, Carlton slowly disappeared from the music scene. She became the subject of intrigue a few times. News about her battle with anorexia and her announcement about her sexuality were some of the subjects that the media focused on about Carlton. Eventually, those died down as well. The buzz around the young artist began to fade, and Carlton remained but a figure from time past.
Then out of nowhere, news came that Vanessa Carlton was to star in the Broadway hit show, Beautiful. Based on the life and songs of legendary singer-songwriter Carole King, Beautiful has had a solid run in the musical theater circuit since 2013. It debuted in San Francisco for its pre-Broadway try-out. By the time the musical came out on Broadway, it had already established a solid following. New York Times called the show “exhausting” at times, but the redemptive factor seemed to be the star of the show. Broadway star Jessie Mueller always had rave performance reviews, along with the rest of the show’s cast.
This year, Carlton will be replacing Jessie Mueller for a 10-week run of Beautiful. This will be Carlton’s Broadway debut, and it’s a massive one. She will be filling in some big shoes after Mueller, who received a Tony Award for her performance in 2014. Having said that, many people have full confidence in Carlton to shine as Carole King, and there are many reasons why.
For one, Carlton herself is a singer-songwriter. According to this article from EW.com, Carlton has always looked up to Carole King as one of the most influential female voices in the music industry. King paved the way for many artists such as Carlton to be able to compete, thrive, and find success in an industry that’s predominantly powered by males. Carlton herself has led the life of a singer-songwriter at an early age—much like King did in her early days.
Aside from the similarities of living the singer-songwriter life, Carlton is not new to performing. She’s done hundreds of shows globally, and she’s fairly confident sitting in front of a piano—Carlton’s primary instrument. While she’s been absent from the mainstream music scene, Carlton never quite stopped performing. Vocally, Carlton’s small, pretty voice has gotten edgier and darker with age. It’ll serve as a perfect vocal balance to King’s pop songs. All the while, Carlton’s voice is still quite as distinct as it’s always been, and this Broadway opportunity might allow her to completely broaden her horizons and grow even more as an artist exploring a new venture.
Lastly, Carlton’s talents aren’t limited to the piano and microphone. Not many people know that Carlton is actually a graduate of the School of American Ballet, where she started when she was only 14 years old. Carlton has been a ballerina since she was 9 years old, and it was a passion that was just as powerfully influential in her life as the piano was. We saw a glimpse of this skill and talent in one of Carlton’s music videos. White Houses was released in 2004, and the music video to the song showed Carlton dancing to her own song. It was a show of skill to say the least, but the deep emotion of her dancing echoed the sentiments of her song. Slant Magazine wrote that the song was one of Carlton’s sophomore album’s best. But we’d have to say that her dancing might have been better.
There aren’t a lot of things to reference back to in order to predict how Carlton’s Broadway debut might be, but it sure is refreshing to hear about someone that’s essentially aged out of the pop industry doing something different and unexpected. Carlton might finally get a chance to outshine her younger self, and there really is no bigger stage than Broadway to do it. The fact that she’s doing it through the songs of Carole King is a plus for Carlton and for many fans that have always liked Carlton’s voice. If she does this correctly, she might find herself in another whirlwind of fame and success. The difference is she’s much older now, and she’s likely to have enough power over herself at this point to be able to handle it all. At least we hope she does.
Beautiful featuring Vanessa Carlton will launch on June 27 at the Stephen Sondheim Theater in New York. The show is expected to make a 10-week run, although we suspect that we might be seeing more of Carlton after this debut.