Jake Epstein Trades Degrassi Community School For Beautiful On Broadway

  • Degrassi alum Jake Epstein

    [Photo Credit: Teen Nick, Getty Images]

  • Degrassi alum Nina Dobrev

    [Photo Credit: Teen Nick, Getty Images]

  • Degrassi alum Landon Liboiron

    [Photo Credit: Teen Nick, Netflix]

  • Degrassi alum Lauren Collins

    [Photo Credit: Teen Nick, Comedy Central]

  • Degrassi alum Shenae Grimes-Beech

    [Photo Credit: Teen Nick, Splash News]
  • Degrassi alum Cassie Steele

    [Photo Credit: Teen Nick, Splash News]
  • Degrassi alum Drake

    [Photo Credit: Teen Nick, Splash News]

After six seasons of playing the bioplar wannabe rock star Craig Manning on DegrassiJake Epstein “graduated” from the hit Canadian series to attend theater school. He made a few guest appearances — who can forget his surprise coke problem or the gang’s trip to Hollywood? — before landing roles in the national tours of Spring Awakening and American Idiot. And with that, a Broadway baby was born. Epstein currently stars as Gerry Goffin in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the story of the prolific singer-songwriter and her former husband/writing partner that is much more than a simple reading of their Wikipedia pages set to music. With seven Tony Award nominations, the show is one of the must-see productions of the season, making Epstein one of Degrassi’s biggest success stories to date. See? It’s not all about Drake.

So how much pressure comes with portraying an accomplished musician who happens to still be alive? VH1 spoke to Epstein about playing the complex and talented man behind many of King’s most famous songs, as well as what comes with tackling tough subject matter on a teen soap. Buckle up, Degrassi superfans. This goes there.

First off, congratulations! The show just received seven Tony nominations, which is really exciting.
Yeah, it’s exciting.

Did you expect that kind of response when you got the gig?
For me it been a dream to originate a Broadway role and then the fact that we can get nominated for a Tony Award, this is all something that I didn’t even sort of consider. It was never on my mind or anyone’s mind, but it’s great. Hopefully it gets people in the seats.

Were you a fan of Carole King before you started working with the show?
Yeah, my dad is a huge folk music fan so growing up there were always records playing in my house. Carole King, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles — I grew up with this music and I was aware of how special this music was to a lot of people.

How much did you know about Gerry Goffin? I love Carole King and I love Tapestry but I didn’t know too much about their relationship.
I knew nothing. I read her autobiography and that was how I learned about Gerry Goffin. I had no idea that she had written all of those songs with Gerry before she became a solo writer.

It’s so important. Obviously when you see the show you see how they created the songs and that they were still very true to her style. But when a song is given to The Drifters or its given to The Shirelles…
When you listen to the songs, the melodies are always so joyful and the words are always oddly dark and deep. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” if you go through the lyrics, is such a haunting melody and the words are, for a pop song, pretty deep and dark. And I think that’s what made them a really special songwriting team. With that juxtaposition of her light melodies and his dark lyrics.

Have you had the opportunity to meet Gerry at all or speak with him?
I met him twice.

Was that intimidating?
Yes. Yes, especially considering the story that they choose to tell. I was always really worried. I really worked hard not to portray Gerry as a villain. He’s complicated and I was really worried that he would be upset or embarrassed or something, and I was really relieved that he was a fan. He was onboard.

I think the way the show progresses and the way they choose to end things with their reunion, so to speak, at Carnegie Hall is really nice.
Which is true. They’re friends to this day.

I saw that Carole King came to one of the shows recently and surprised you all. What was it like to realize that she had been watching you?
We didn’t know that she was there that night. Thank God! I think we all would have been nervous and anxious. It was overwhelming. Everyone was crying and I was laughing. I was like, “This is so ridiculous that Carole walked out on stage after seeing a musical about her life.” Oh my God, what a thrill to meet her and to get a chance to talk to her after the show. And she talked to me about Gerry and she was so warm and loving and open and cool. It was a really special night.

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