A sensational lead performance by Broadway understudy-turned-National Tour star Julia Knitel and over two dozen ‘50s/‘60s hits (most of them written by a certain Carol Joan Klein and the man she married at seventeen and divorced ten rocky years later) make Beautiful: The Carole King Musical a must-see for pop music lovers and Broadway buffs alike.
Admittedly, King’s virtual overnight success and mostly bump-free teens and early twenties do make for considerably less Drama with a capital D than say her contemporary Janis Joplin’s life did in The Rose, but for showbiz bio lovers, King’s skyrocket ride to songwriting stardom coupled with her discovery of Prince Charming’s dark side prove captivating from the show-opening “So Far Away” to the get-up-and-sing-along “I Feel The Earth Move” that ends the evening with a bang.
Showbiz bios can hardly avoid the formulaic, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is no exception, but Tony-nominated book writer Douglas McGrath, director Marc Bruni, and an exciting production design make this particular showbiz bio a finely-tuned machine.
McGrath opts to focus on two major aspects of King’s personal/professional life, her marriage to lyricist Goffin and the couple’s friendly rivalry with their chief competitors, composer Barry Mann and his lyricist girlfriend Cynthia Weil.
As portrayed by a stardom-bound Liam Tobin, Gerry Goffin must have been every shy, gawky Brooklyn teen girl’s dream hunk, but Gerry’s dark side spells trouble for a couple married too young, even for the Eisenhower ‘50s.
Meanwhile, Barry and Cynthia (whose own hits included “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “On Broadway”) seem as ill-inclined to walk down the aisle as Gerry and Carole were to wed (though admittedly teen pregnancy did influence the latter couple’s decision to get hitched).
Whatever Beautiful: The Carole King Musical lacks in drama, it more than makes up for in music, and with Goffin-King classics like “Up On The Roof,” “The Locomotion,” “One Fine Day,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” just half-a-dozen of the hits performed by an all-around-stellar cast, this is one hook-filled musical indeed.
Not that there isn’t a bit of fiction mixed in with the facts. For instance, whoever it was that Gerry philandered with, it was not “Janelle Woods.” nor did “Janelle” record “One Fine Day” (that was The Chiffons). And though Beautiful would have you believe that Carole wrote “It Might As Well Rain Until September” all by herself before even meeting Gerry, it was in truth one of their earliest collaborations.
And truth be told, I loved every second of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Knitel had me in the palm of her hand from the moment she sat down to plunk-and-sing “So Far Away” with Broadway pipes enough like King’s to pass sound-alike muster while stunning on their own merits.
Erika Olson’s spunky, spicy Cynthia and Ben Frankenhauser’s nerdy-cute neurotic of a Barry are winners as well, with Curt Bouril (as legend-making rock music producer Don Kirschner) and Suzanne Grodner (as Carole’s mom Genie) providing non-singing featured performance gems along the way.
Broadway ensembles don’t get more pop pipe-blessed than Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’s: Sarah Bockel (Betty), Andrew Brewer (Righteous Brother, Nick), Rebecca E. Covington (Shirelle, Janelle Woods), Josh A. Dawson (Drifter), John Michael Dias (Neil Sedaka, Righteous Brother, Lou Adler), Rosharra Francis (Shirelle, Little Eva, “One Fine Day” Backup Singer), Traci Elaine Lee (Shirelle, “One Fine Day” Backup Singer, “Uptown” singer), Jay McKenzie (Drifter), Paris Nix (Drifter), Noah J. Ricketts (Drifter), Salisha Thomas (Lucille, Shirelle, “One Fine Day” Backup Singer), and Delaney Westfall (Marilyn Wald), just about each and every one of whom gets to sing lead at one point or another in addition to performing choreographer Josh Prince’s groovy boy-group/girl-group moves amidst wig-and-costume changes galore.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical looks every bit as fabulous as you expect a Broadway National Tour to look thanks to scenic designer Derek McLane’s glitzy set and Peter Kaczoroski Vegas-flashy lighting design, with Alejo Vietti’s costumes, Charles G. LaPointe’s hair and wigs, and Joe Dulude II’s makeup design taking us from late ‘50s to late ’60 with a combination of real-folks authenticity and pop-star pizzazz.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical sounds beautiful too thanks to music director/conductor Susan Draus, Brian Ronan’s Tony-winning sound design, and Steve Sidwell’s Tony-nominated orchestrations.
Shelley Butler is associate director and Joyce Chittick is associate choreographer. Brianna-Marie Bell, Sidney DuPont, Matt Faucher, James Michael Lambert, dance captain Alaina Mills, and Ximone Rose are swings. Eric Sprosty is stage manager.
Whether as a nostalgic, tune-filled trip down memory lane or as a revelatory look at the early days of the singer-songwriter whose album Tapestry turned her into an “overnight” superstar, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical makes for crowd-pleasing musical magic on the Segerstrom Center For The Arts stage.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
October 4, 2106
Photos: Joan Marcus