Even though he’s only 27, Jake Epstein is no stranger to the hits of Carole King. The prolific singer-songwriter’s tunes were the soundtrack of many a family camping trip. “My dad is a massive Carole King fan and I remember him playing her songs in the car,” says Epstein who starred in the popular television series Degrassi: The Next Generation and made his Broadway debut in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. “I grew up loving the music so much.”
So getting to the chance to play King’s former husband and collaborator, Gerry Goffin, in Beautiful – the Carole King Musical on Broadway was a dream-come-true. “I had done a workshop for the show and was playing Spider-Man and I remember getting the call and was so excited,” recalls the actor. “And I’m such a big fan of our director Marc Bruni. I couldn’t believe it.” After a recent two-show Saturday (which also fell on Super Bowl weekend), the actor shared his rituals and routines.
I woke up to the sound of my sister, Gabi, doing an Insanity Workout in the room next to me and banging on the floor. She is staying with me as my roommate is doing Les Mis in North Carolina. It’s probably a late start to the day but I take all the rest I can get for a two-show day.
I made McNulty’s coffee. It was a birthday gift from my very sweet dresser [for the show], Charlie. I’m a big coffee drinker. That’s my vice. I drink it with almond milk and sugar. I made a big breakfast: two eggs, turkey bacon, toast and greens — my favorite things in life on a plate. I read the news online as I ate. I’m from Toronto, so I read Canadian newspapers, the star.com or theGlobe.com. It makes me think of home and I like to know what’s going on there as well as the rest of the world.
I took a shower and I did my vocal warm up in there. Steam is good for your voice. My warm up starts gently with a lot of humming and a few trills, where you like vibrate your tongue. Then I do a bunch of scales. It’s the same warm up every day. Keeps it consistent.
I got out of the shower and shaved because you have to look spiffy on Broadway.
As I was stretching, my sister came in and told me all about her night. I’m not dancing at all in this show, but with all the moving, maintaining my body is really important. My sister is a great singer and actress and she’s a good person to bounce ideas off of. There was a moment in the show that was feeling a little bit wonky, so we talked it out.
I’ve got a great family. I won the family lottery. One thing that makes it hard being in New York is being away from the fam. But it’s good. They come visit.
I took the subway to the Sondheim Theatre. The subway is easy and the people-watching is entertaining. I’m in Harlem so if I take the express train it’s literally one stop to Times Square. But because of the Super Bowl, it took me about half an hour just to get out of the subway and get to the theater because there were a million people running around. It was just Super Bowl Boulevard or whatever. People were pushing me and shoving me and it kind of blew my mind. People occasionally recognize me, but in New York, everyone’s got somewhere to go. They’re too busy to recognize anyone.
When I get to the theater, the first thing I do is knock on Jessie Mueller’s door [Mueller plays Carole King]. We usually chat for a few minutes before every show. We have to go on such an intense journey together every time we’re on stage, so it’s just nice to check in, see how we’re feeling and get each other’s vibe for the day. She just saw the movie Her, so we talked about the movie. We both really liked it.
I have a foam roller and I roll out my back and get all loose. It sounds like I’m obsessively looking after myself, but honestly it’s important. My character gets more and more intense. I hold a lot of tension on stage so my neck, back and arm muscles get really tight sometimes. Because I don’t want to be in pain, I’ll roll it out before the show.
Charlie, my dresser, the guy who got me the coffee, brought me my costume and talked to me about the latest Rob Ford scandal. My mayor is totally embarrassing right now. I’m beyond over it. I’m so sad for my city right now. They need to find a way to get rid of him. Actually, I don’t think he has any power. I think he’s only a mayor in name only right now. It’s interesting being away from your home city, living in New York. There’s so much press about him here in New York. It’s unbelievable.
After I put on my costume, I headed to the hair room where Pat, an incredibly sweet and loving lady, does my hair and we catch up. My girlfriend is coming in to visit from Toronto tonight so Pat gave me suggestions about stuff that we could do in the city.
The audience was great — clearly a lot of Carole King fans. I saw a lot of football jerseys in the audience [from both teams] because of the Super Bowl and I wondered how many deals were made between couples. Like, if we go see the Carole King musical then I’ll go watch the Super Bowl with you kind of thing?
I usually take a second to myself at intermission. I wrote in my journal and just breathed. My character has a lot intense moments so I think it’s nice to put all those intense feelings somewhere.
In Act Two, I knocked over a bunch of records that were on the table. We needed to pick them up. Like a total pro, Jessie came over and started picking up the records and it became part of the scene. So I kept going, reacted to what I knocked over and it felt incredibly alive. Right after we did a quick change and came back on to do a scene — I told Jessie, ‘nice cover’ and she gave me a big smile. I love when little mistakes happen because you have to think on your feet and find a way to solve it and it just wakes you up. Live theater, baby!
After the show I went to lunch with Jeb Brown, who plays Don Kirshner in the show. I love the guy. We actually went to Sardi’s, which I’d never been to before. It was the stereotypical New York Broadway lunch, but that’s what we did. They have a lunch deal and I ate curried chicken with vegetables and rice. I was starving. There were all these tables from other shows. We looked around and there was the Matilda table, the Once table, the Jersey Boys table. I felt very important all of a sudden. We didn’t have a ton of time so we ate quickly so we’d have time to digest.
We got back to the theater and I got a call from my girlfriend that she landed and was going to meet me after the show. I usually hop in the shower before a second show, because my hair gets all greasy and crazy. Also, it’s nice to take a second to breathe. Our second show was solid. There were no records knocked over this time. There was great energy in the audience. I think everyone feels the excitement of being in New York, seeing theater on a Saturday night.
After the show I took the subway home and met my girlfriend at my apartment. She’s a writer, actress and does a lot of spoken word poetry. We have a three-week rule [about being away from each other]. When you’re doing long distance it can get tough. So anything longer than three weeks gets crazy.
There’s a restaurant called Bier International on Frederick Douglass Boulevard that we love. We went to grab a bite late but their kitchen was closed. So they told us about a speakeasy down the street called 67 Orange Street. I never knew it existed. It had a door with no sign and a velvet curtain. It was very cool. We had fried chicken, waffles and cocktails and caught up. Part of the fun of it was that we just kind of stumbled into the place. We stayed for a couple hours. Because of the Super Bowl I had the day off on Sunday, so it was a sweet Saturday night.