note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Many songs that created indelible memories for many of us - that we danced to, sang, and treasured - keep racing through my head, days after seeing “Beautiful-The Carole King Musical”.
You’ve probably heard them over and over again, too, tunes like the Shirelles’ 1960 hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” The Drifters’ 1961 hit, “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and 1963’s “Up On the Roof”. How about Aretha Franklin’s iconic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and Carole King’s solo, “It Might As Well Rain Until September”?
Who can forget her anthemic song, “You’ve Got a Friend,” collaborated with James Taylor?
I never would have guessed Ms. King, nee’ Carole Klein, wrote them, and many, many others. I also didn’t know she was from Brooklyn, wrote her first big hit at 17, sang with legendary Paul Simon in high school, skipped two grades, and attended Queens College in NYC, where she met flirtatious classmate-lyricist Gerry Goffin. The duo married young, shotgun style, and continued for years to create beautiful music together for headlining acts.
“Beautiful-Carole King Musical,” which won the 2014 Tony Award among others, relives King’s biography, from these teen-age, fledgling songwriting days to her divorce from her philandering husband, and her move to California with her two daughters, where she continued to write music, perform, and garner accolades and awards.
Theatergoers sang along, nodded their heads, and reacted demonstrably to King’s trials and triumphs. They became lost for 2-1/2 hours in her music, her courtship, partnership and marriage to Goffin, their lifetime friendship with competitors Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Together, that unlikely duo matched King and Goffin, hit-for-hit, with the Drifters’ “On Broadway,” “The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”Gladys Knight and the Pips’ ”You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,’”the Partridge Family’s “I Really Want to Know You,” and several others.
Abby Mueller, sister of Jessie Mueller, who originated the role of King on Broadway and won King’s admiration at the Tony Awards, lends her own soulful portrayal as King, from the determined, ponytailed teen-age composer to internationally famous, gracious performer. Abby’s voice soars in finale solos, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and theme song, “Beautiful”.
Director Marc Bruni leads a terrific cast, with Liam Tobin starring as the wayward Goffin; Becky Gulsvig, stylish Cynthia Weil; and Ben Fankhauser as Barry Mann. He injects levity as the perennial hypochondriac, while unleashing his strong voice in solos and duets.
The 22-strong cast-ensemble is terrific, especially musical groups whose syncopated, groovy moves are reminiscently exaggerated here. Kudos, choreographer Josh Prince and music conductor Susan Draus and company.
The national touring company’s bombastic production boasts designer Peter Kaczorowski’s huge lighted grids, that change colors, blink and glare, mesmerizing theatergoers, like deer in headlights. Derek McLane’s compartmentalized, multi-level , multi-functional set converts from Don Kirshner’s (Curt Bouril) NYC offices and recording studios to Carole’s and her mom’s (Suzanne Grodner) humble Brooklyn abode and Carole’s suburban home.
“Beautiful-The Carole King Musical” has it all, yet I was disappointed. Perhaps I expected too much, given the super-hype the show has gathered.
King’s story is poignant, a veritable teen-age fairy tale, from rags to riches, young love to heartbreak and broken home - like her embittered mother - but here, her story acts more like underpinning, linking lifetime milestones to her lexicon of songs and the artists who scored No. 1 on the charts.
Nobody else complained. They were in thrall, cheering, applauding, as they reluctantly exited the theater, eager to catch that one last note
BOX INFO: National Touring Company production of 2014 Tony Award winning two-act, 2-1/2 hour musical play, book by Douglas McGrath, appearing through November 15, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston: Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m.; Sunday, 1,6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $44. Visit www.BroadwayInBoston.com, or call Ticketmaster, 800-982-2787.