Suzanne O. Davis — who has presented her tribute show, “Tapestry: The Carole King Songbook” in Morristown, Englewood and Hackettstown over the past year — returns to New Jersey for four shows over three days at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in Hampton, May 4-6.
The Cleveland native, who now lives in the Toronto area, started doing this show about four years ago; around the same time, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” debuted in San Francisco, before moving to Broadway. King herself, now 76, has said that her 2010 tour with James Taylor will probably be her last, though she has made occasional public appearances since then.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of King’s first single, a non-hit titled “The Right Girl.” King later, of course, became one of the most successful songwriters of the ’60s, with songs such as as “Up on the Roof,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (all co-written with her husband of the time, Gerry Goffin). In 1971, her Tapestry album — featuring hits such as “It’s Too Late,” “So Far Away” and “I Feel the Earth Move” — made her a best-selling recording artist in her own right.
I talked to Davis last week by phone.
Q: I know you’ve brought this show to New Jersey at least a couple of times, recently. Are you starting to tour with it nationally more than you have in the past?
A: It seems like we have been doing a lot of shows in New Jersey lately. I have one agent that’s in the New Jersey area, so he’s been booking us in his neck of the woods. We’re also going, you know, pretty much all across the country and in Canada as well.
Q: Is it possible to put into words what attracts you to her music?
A: You know what? I don’t know exactly. It just kind of came to me. I was looking to produce a show that would suit me well and I started thinking about Carole King and the great catalog of music she has. And I thought, “This is the perfect thing,” and we started putting it together, and it just kind of built itself. And because I play piano and sing, it was pretty much the perfect platform for me. Of course, her catalog of music is incredible. So, once I started with the idea, it just all came together and made perfect sense.
Q: Did it have anything to do with the Broadway show — that bringing her back into people’s consciousness a little more?
A: No. I had actually put the wheels in motion just prior to that, and then when I saw that they were doing it, I thought it could either be really bad or really good (for me), because I would be competing with a complete, wonderful Broadway show. But I think it’s helped bring her back into the public eye, and bring her music back to life, and so it’s been been really good. I’ve actually seen “Beautiful” twice, and it’s just fantastic.
Q: I imagine you do, in the show, not just songs she recorded but some of the famous songs she wrote for other artists?
A: Yes, we do the Tapestry album, plus we do other songs from the ’70s that weren’t on Tapestry, and then we go back and do almost a whole set of the ’60s music she wrote with Gerry Goffin for other artists. So we pretty much cover the whole spectrum of her catalog.
Q: And is it “in character”? Do you “become” her?
A: I don’t. I never presume to be, you know, playing the part of Carole. I perform as myself. I do try to evoke the vibe and I choose my wardrobe so that it fits a ’70 style, and then we come out and do the ’60s, and my wardrobe’s appropriate for that, as well. I want to create a visual without doing a lookalike or soundalike. It is basically a true homage to the great catalog of Carole King.
Q: Of course, some artists have toured a lot, and people have seen them a lot. And she, obviously, is not someone who has done a tremendous amount of live performing. So in a sense, for a lot of people, this is their first opportunity to experience a concert of her music.
A: That’s a good point. I never thought of it in those terms. What we do with our production is we do try to treat it as if we’re re-creating a Carole King concert. So we do bring that to the table and, you’re right, she hasn’t toured a lot over the years. She’s been a very private person, ’cause she was raising a family, and living in Idaho, and all that. So when she toured, she toured, and when she didn’t. she was at home and living a normal life. But then she’s done some great tours, with James Taylor, and when the Tapestry album was first released she played Carnegie Hall. She did a lot of different band configurations with that tour. And then the last thing she did was, in 2016, she did Hyde Park in London and she did the whole Tapestry album, plus stuff from the ’60s.
But as far as a full-on tour, I don’t think we’re ever going to see that again from her. I think at a certain age, the vocals … it’s very exhausting.
Q: I know some in Beatles bands and other cover groups get real obsessive about getting every note and every little musical element exactly right. How closely have you studied the original recordings? Is it a priority for you to do them the way they were originally done, or is this your interpretation?
A: It is my interpretation. But we do try to stay true to the original. Like, all the trademark piano licks and horn lines are definitely … it’s important to keep the basic structure of the song. But with that being said, we extend solos.
And the other thing is, with Carol’s music, she’s toured with so many different configurations that you won’t really find videos of her doing her songs the same way twice. So I do take a little bit of liberty with that. But we do all the piano licks for a trademark song like “Earth Move” or “One Fine Day” or “It’s Too Late.” They’re all in there because I want people to hear the music as they heard it on the album. But then we’ll take a little bit of liberty, like I said, with extended solos and kind of bring it up to date a little bit more. I’ve got this great band, so it’s really important for me to let them shine, and the audience loves that, too.
Suzanne O. Davis presents “Tapestry: The Carole King Songbook” at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in Hampton, May 4 at 1 p.m., May 5 at 1 and 8 p.m., and May 6 at 4 p.m., with lunch or dinner served 90 minutes before showtime. Visit hhplayhouse.com.