Esther weaves a nostalgic show from ‘Tapestry’

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“Tapestry”, Esther Hannaford with the band. Photo: Liam Neal.

WHEN Esther Hannaford steps on stage at the Canberra Theatre to perform Carole King’s famous 1971 album, “Tapestry”, she’s hoping audience members will feel as if they’re sitting in their living room. 

It’s a tall order for a show that’ll be packing nostalgic Australians all around the country in venues both big and intimate, but as she tells me by phone from her home in Melbourne, there’ll only be a little bit of talk and a lot of music. 

“This is not a cabaret show, it’s really to pay homage to the music… you’re supposed to sit back and relax, as if you’re in the lounge room – we are taking people back,” Hannaford says.

The “we” includes bassist Mark Wilson, keyboardists Clio Renner and Louis Macklin, guitarist and vocalist Olivia Bartley and drummer Pete Marin.

Esther Hannaford as Carole King. “She was tough yet vulnerable, sensitive, but a survivor.” Photo: Liam Neal.

And they’re betting it won’t just be mums and dads, but younger people too, who will come to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Tapestry”, the biggest-selling female album of all time, by listening to hits like “I Feel the Earth Move”, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.

Hannaford is no stranger to the art of Carole King, having played her in the Aussie production of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” from 2017-2018.

Unsurprisingly, Hannaford feels some kinship with King, who at 79 is still alive and well, engaged in environmental activism in Idaho, and in Hannaford’s words, “a bit of a hippie”.

“She started writing so young… 90 per cent of what she wrote was about love,” she says, describing how Carole initially wrote music for more than two dozen chart hits with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, who wrote the lyrics.

It was a tumultuous marriage, during which “the piano was her solace, and she’d play it for hours and hours”.

By the 1970s, King was writing her own songs and accompanying herself on the piano. The rest is musical history. She went on to make 25 solo albums, win the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, all the while articulating her support for the US Democrats. 

After she left New York City, King joined environmental causes like Alliance for the Wild Rockies, an interest already hinted at in her songs. 

“She was tough yet vulnerable, sensitive, but a survivor,” Hannaford says.

“There was a positive, generous element to her and she still has that… she overcame her vulnerabilities to develop strength and she is now very, very confident.”

Hannaford is not lacking in confidence either.

A child performer in “Scrooge”, she trained as a classical singer with a private teacher then went on to study musical theatre. 

Esther Hannaford as Carole King. “She started writing so young… 90 per cent of what she wrote was about love.”

Choice roles followed, like Penny in the original Australian cast of “Hairspray”, bigger ones like Ann Darrow, in the world premiere of “King Kong” and Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors”, then her biggest role ever, Carole King in “Beautiful”, a role to which her multi-octave vocal skills were perfectly suited. However, she had to improve her piano-playing skills so she could comfortably sing and play at the same time. 

She was on a roll. Hannaford headed to the Melbourne Theatre Company, where she had performed as Viola in “Twelfth Night” and played heroin addict Julie in the April 2019 production of Louis Nowra’s “Così”.

“Doing straight theatre was a great change for me,” she says.

Then covid struck, and 2020 was “a rough year”, but nonetheless in a first for her, she scored the role of Sophie in ABC TV’s comedy, “Retrograde”, filmed and edited under lockdown.

By contrast, 2021 is looking like heaven.

This month [April] she’s been in a Melbourne Theatre Company “Next Stage” show, “Well, That Happened” created by Dean Bryant, and now there’s the big tour of “Tapestry” – all of it. 

“We are presenting the record as it is, people will hear it to the end,” she says. 

“We’ll throw in some words but basically what we’re doing is honouring the 50th anniversary of the album in its entirety – it has stood the test of time.”

 Carole King’s “Tapestry” 50th anniversary tour, Canberra Theatre, May 8-9, bookings at or 6275 2700.

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