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Tony-nominated 'Beautiful' actress Jessie Mueller on how meeting Carole King changed her

This image released by The O and M Company shows Jessie Mueller as Carole King, center, in

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This image released by The O and M Company shows Jessie Mueller as Carole King, center, in "Beautiful: Carol King the Musical," in New York. Mueller is nominated for a Tony Award for her role in "Beautiful." The Tonys will be held on Sunday, June 8 in New York. (AP Photo/The O and M Company, Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - When Jessie Mueller first sat behind the piano to portray Carole King on Broadway, she had no idea what kind of year she was going to have. It was when the real Carole King showed up unexpectedly at a recent performance that put it all into perspective.

During a curtain call in early April of the Tony Award-nominated "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," the legendary musician walked out onstage and hugged Mueller and the cast.

"There was sort of a calm that came over me. I was also kind of losing my mind, because I couldn't believe she was actually there, but I guess that was always the approval I was looking for," Mueller said.

All along, Mueller wanted King, who had not previously sat through an entire performance because it depicted a painful part of her life, to feel comfortable with her performance.

"I wanted her to be like, 'It's OK. She's not screwed it up.' That's kind of how I felt," Mueller said. "Her opinion about me was the one I cared the most."

But once King showed up, it changed Mueller's performance, at least temporarily. It took her a few shows to regain her composure between "real Carole," and Mueller's version of her.

"I felt like I really overthought it the night after," she recalls.

After she walked onstage that night, King raised $30,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She told the crowd that Mueller and the company were fantastic, and that "It was so joyous to be there. I couldn't be more proud."

Then she sang her biggest hit, "You've Got a Friend" with the cast, trading verses with Mueller.

"Beautiful" is nominated for seven Tony awards, including one for Mueller for best actress in a musical, and two for her co-stars Jarrod Spector and Anika Larsen. The Tony Awards will be presented Sunday night. The show will air on CBS.

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Online: http://www.beautifulonbroadway.com

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Follow AP Entertainment producer John Carucci at http://www.twitter.com/jacarucci

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