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Queens Chronicle

Broadway cast calls Astoria home

Queens residents featured in new Carole King musical, ‘Beautiful’

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Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:42 am, Thu Aug 28, 2014.

Little could Carole King have known when she entered Queens College as a teenager with aspirations to become a songwriter that her life story would be the focus of a Broadway musical half a century later.

But so it came to pass, when “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Jan. 12.

Both King’s life and the new show celebrating it have a number of connections to this borough.

It was at Queens College where King met her husband and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin, who died in June at 75.

Even earlier, back in high school, she had been cutting demo records with a kid from Forest Hills named Paul Simon.

And at least three of the show’s cast members, including Tony Award-winning leading lady Jessie Mueller, live in Astoria.

It was about two years ago that Mueller, originally from Evanston, Ill., settled into the area, now known to some as “Actoria “because of the many performers who have recently taken up residence there.

“It was the first neighborhood I really became acquainted with,” she said. “I like that it’s a bit more laid back, more suburban, I guess you could say.”

Mueller finds the area a welcome change of pace from the Broadway scene.

“I like getting away from the bustle of Manhattan at night,” she said. “I really like the feel of it. I love the blocks of row houses, with the wonderful little old ladies that come out to water their roses in their house dresses.

“People are just living their lives. They’re not trying to prove anything, not trying to climb anything.”

She said she likes “getting away to that at the end of the day. Manhattan is wonderful for all its stimuli, but I can’t do it 24/7.”

Two of her fellow “Beautiful” cast members, who appear in the show as members of the popular recording group The Drifters as well as an assortment of other roles, are also big fans of the neighborhood.

Douglas Lyons, a native of New Haven, Conn., has been in and out of New York for the past eight years, finally settling in Queens early in 2011, following a tour in the musical “Dreamgirls.”

He said he visited friends in Astoria and the area “felt safe. It was an easy commute ... not too loud.” He appreciates the “quaint quietness” of his neighborhood.

Fellow Drifter Alan Wiggins, who hails from Baltimore, Md., found his way to Astoria via an earlier stopover in Brooklyn.

“I had been coming to New York for auditions over the years,” he said. While performing in a touring children’s show, he stayed with friends in Astoria. One of his best friends from college lived in the area. So, Wiggins decided to follow suit.

It’s where he was able to get “the best bang for my buck. It’s very convenient for me. The N, Q and R go right to Times Square.”

Astoria, for him, “feels like a nice neighborhood. It’s a great place to come home to.”

Like many who live in the area, all the performers have special places to grab a bite right in their own backyard.

“Food is really great out here,” said Lyons, naming The Chicken Shack on 30th Avenue and Tasty’s Diner on Ditmars Boulevard as two of his favorite hangouts.

For Wiggins, a particular favorite is Milkflower, a small brick-oven pizza shop on 31st Avenue. Wiggins praised it for what he calls “awesome, unique pizza.”

Mueller takes a fancy to Fatty’s Cafe, a neighborhood staple for years.

“It was one of my favorite spots,” she said, though she admitted that she hasn’t been to its new 28th Avenue location yet.

She even has a favorite bagel shop. “People get very excited at the theater when I bring in the big bags from Astoria Bagels,” she said.

Astoria Park is another spot that all three enjoy.

“It’s a wonderful place to go and work out,” Lyons said.

Wiggins likes to run there and called it an ideal place “to have a little picnic by the water.”

He’s also enjoys Break Bar & Billiards on Broadway, which he called “a cool place to go,” with its restaurant, pool hall and arcade games.

Mueller, who won a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her role as King, said she is still exploring the neighborhood, though she doesn’t have as much free time as she might like.

With only one day off a week, “I find myself on the couch a lot,” she said.

“I love that I can walk out my door and have access to great restaurants, a quick trip to a movie theater, a coffee shop, you name it.”

As for the future, she admitted, “If someone offered me a beautiful lake house upstate, maybe I’d be tempted,” but, for the time being at least, “I think I’d really love to stay” in Astoria. “I’ve grown accustomed to it, and it feels like home. It’s become my neighborhood.”

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