Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the married songwriting team behind "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," "On Broadway" and some of the most enduring hits in the history of pop music, have been finishing each other's songs — and each other's sentences — for 54 years.
But since they became characters in "Beautiful — The Carole King Musical," which recently celebrated its 1,000th performance on Broadway and is touring the country, the pair are more in demand than ever.
Their early career — he writing music, she lyrics — and their friendly rivalry with fellow hit-makers Carole King and Gerry Goffin play out each night. Now that the “Beautiful” tour has arrived at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, the real Mann and Weil, who have lived in Los Angeles since the early 1970s, will inhabit the same city as their stage doppelgangers.
Mann and Weil discussed fame, friendship, marriage and what it's like to watch their life onstage. Although they've told their stories many times over the years — Douglas McGrath interviewed them at length while developing the book for "Beautiful" — they didn't seem a bit put out by the request to tell the story again. They riffed in witty counterpoint, each sometimes sitting back to let the other take charge of an especially zingy anecdote in this edited conversation.
There are a lot of gold and platinum records on the walls in here.
Mann: Those are just Cynthia's. I have mine out in the studio.
Weil: I wonder what musicians hang up on the walls these days. Air?
Is that a picture of you with the actors who played you on Broadway? I read in the New Yorker that you went out to eat with them after seeing the show.
Mann: Yes. Great people, great performers.
Weil: I used to tell Anika [Larsen] she was a better me than I ever was.
I guess it might be awkward if you didn't like them.
Weil: We have casting approval over the actors who play us. I don't think you've seen the new you, yet, Barry. Well, you saw him on tape.
Mann: I hear the tour cast is great.
Was it weird the first time you saw a musical about yourselves?
Weil: We had been to a few readings, so we were getting used to it. But it still was kind of soul-shaking.
Mann: It's Broadway!
Do you think the show portrays you accurately?
Mann: They got the essence of us.
Weil: Doug wrote the essence of us, and they were terrific actors, so they captured it.
Mann: Doug is a perceptive guy, a terrific guy. A funny writer. We're like the … what is it called? Hilarious moment?
Weil: The comic relief. We used to call Carole and Gerry “Lucy and Desi,” and we were “Fred and Ethel.”
Mann: Originally it was going to be about all four of us, but then it had to change, which we really understood.
Weil: Carole's former manager had this concept.
Mann: She just loved the whole atmosphere of it. Aldon Music was a publishing company run by Don Kirshner. He had writing couples and all that. And the competition between us and Carole and Gerry, and our friendship at the same time, was just a great story.
Weil: The first reading ended with us getting married. And everybody said, "Where's [King's 1971 solo album] 'Tapestry?'" We realized that we had to step back and let Carole take the floor.
Mann: People knew Carole. Most people don't know who we are. They know our songs.
Weil: Our story is not as interesting to them as Carole's story.
Mann: I find our story interesting because it's about me. Barry Mann.
Were you at all reluctant to participate in the development of the musical?
Mann: No, we were excited. When I saw — I mean, you'll see how Doug portrays me, and someone else could have said, “Well, I don't like that at all." But you'll see.
Weil: Carole was the one who had the most hesitation. She left in the middle of one of the readings, and she said, "I don't want to live this again, and I feel weird having people looking at me looking at my life." She didn't see the show right away. But now she loves it.
The moment the two of you met turned out to be really fateful. How did it happen?
Weil: I was writing with a young Italian boy singer, the Frankie Avalon of his day, named Teddy Randazzo, when Barry came in to play him a song. I asked the receptionist, "Who is this guy? Does he have a girlfriend?" She said, "He's signed to a friend of mine, Don Kirshner, and if I call Donny, maybe you can go up there to show him your lyrics and meet Barry again." So that's what she did. And that's what I did. He didn't have a chance.
Mann: It's the truth.
Did your creative partnership start at the same time as your romantic involvement?
Mann: No, not right away. We were dating. At a certain point, I got very curious about her lyrics. I really liked them. I felt they had a sophistication and a soulfulness that was a great combination, and I felt that there was a place for this kind of lyric in the pop culture that was happening, and so we started writing. And we had hits right away.
Weil: It's really amazing. If I had gone up to write with Teddy on another day, and Barry hadn't walked in … it's so strange how life is set up.
You worked with Carole and Gerry in the 1950s and 1960s?
Mann: It was like a family, and Don Kirshner was the father, even though he was only three or four years older than us. He'd tell us what artists were coming in to record. We'd all run to our cubicles or run home to try to write a song for that artist, to try to get the record before the other person.
Weil: And it was very fast. It was instant gratification, because it was a singles market. Nobody was cutting albums, so you'd give someone a song and they'd record it in two weeks, and then it would be on the air in another two weeks.
Mann: They called it a song factory — which I hate, because it was more like a school for songwriters.
How did your friendship with Carole and Gerry develop?
Mann: Carole's very easy to like. Gerry was also. We were doing the same thing. We were songwriters. We were married songwriters.
Weil: Nobody else understood the life we lived except them, so we naturally gravitated to each other.
Mann: As they started writing hit songs, we became very competitive. At the same time we really loved each other. It was a very conflicted kind of relationship, very schizophrenic. We'd love them, and if they got the record we felt we should have gotten, we'd hate them.
Weil: And then we'd feel guilty for hating them.
Did you have any sense that you were living through an important moment?
Weil: Not at all. I never thought the songs would live. I thought they would have their little time on the charts, and they would be over, and that would be it.
Mann: I felt some of our songs were affecting what was happening, you know, in the times — our sociological songs, like “We've Gotta Get Out of This Place," which became an anthem in Vietnam. I felt, because of my own narcissism too, that these songs really meant something.
Weil: We're the yin and the yang. Barry thinks everything means a lot, and I think everything means nothing. And neither of us is probably completely right.
Did you learn from Carole and Gerry, and vice versa?
Weil: Absolutely. I know that I learned from Gerry, because I didn't understand pop lyrics, and I was in awe of him.
Mann: Gerry was a progressive thinker. He was always thinking, “What's going to happen next?” When Bob Dylan ended up making it, Gerry almost wanted to quit the business. He just felt, "No one can write as good as that." He really freaked out over that. It didn't affect us that way. We knew how good Dylan was, but not the way it affected Gerry. We just kept going.
Weil: Doing our dumb little thing.
Mann: It's like in that book about the songwriting couples.
Weil: Ken Emerson's book, "Always Magic in the Air."
Mann: He says, "Mann and Weil soldiered on." That was what I felt we ended up doing. We soldiered on. We just kept going. It's funny, years later, we were all at a party. We happened to be talking to Sidney Poitier, and I don't why this came up, but for some reason Carole said, "You know, I always felt you were a better writer than me." And I said, "I always felt you were a better writer than me."
The press releases describe Carole and Gerry's marriage in the show as "tempestuous." Did you two weather tempests of your own?
Mann: Later on in our lives, yeah. We were separated for about a year and a half. It was very, very hard, at least for me. I went into a very deep depression.
Weil: Being without me was …
Mann: Without her to interrupt me and tell me, “You're not explaining it right." I need her for that. I missed it.
Weil: You know the way you count dog years in human years. If you count working-together years, we've probably been married 500 years.
Mann: It helped our relationship that she was very, very understanding. Let me just put it that way. I on the other hand was not as understanding.
Weil: That's for sure.
Were you aware, all those years when Carole was writing hits for other people, that she wanted to write for herself?
Mann: I didn't know that. Gerry was really the leader of that couple.
Weil: When she moved out to California, her first move was to form a group. She was part of a group called the City. She had two albums out before "Tapestry." Carole likes to be surrounded by family. She doesn't like to step out as the solo artist. She was not someone who said, "Oh, I can't wait to be a star."
Mann: Complete opposite. I didn't know that she was nervous about performing. She told me that later. And she told me the incident that got her over her nervousness. She was introduced at the Troubadour. James Taylor called her up there to sing. And while she was singing, the alarm started going off, and they had a bomb scare. What was the line?
Weil: They said, "There's a bomb scare," and Carole said, "As long as the bomb isn't me."
Mann: I've always had problems in front of an audience. I was always very nervous about forgetting lyrics. Cynthia and I had our own show off-Broadway, in 2004 ["They Wrote That? The Songs of Mann & Weil"], and I got over it then. But then you don't do it for a while, and it starts all over again.
Right, this isn't your first time as characters onstage, although you played yourselves last time. And you also wrote the score for a musical? "Mask”?
Mann: Yeah, we did.
Weil: We did.
Mann: I like how we both just said, "We did," and just trailed off.
Weil: It died a sad death in Pasadena.
I'm sure that happens a lot.
Weil: Sure, but you never think it's going to happen to you.
Mann: That's why "Beautiful" has been such a pleasure. It all fell into place.
Weil: It's as if it was destined to be.
Do you think "Beautiful" has brought a bit more attention to you and your accomplishments?
Mann: A bit. You know, a bit more. But, uh. Not enough!
Weil: If only you'd had a hit album.
Mann: Yeah, I tried to make it as an artist. I recorded my songs. I wanted to take away the middle man. It's a really nice album ["Barry Mann: Soul and Inspiration"].
Weil: But I firmly believe that although Carole kept both feet on the ground when this happened to her, and she became a star, my husband would not have done that. I don't think we'd be together today had he had a hit album. He was a little crazier than Carole.
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