'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical'
A great fun evening in the theater. It is especially enjoyable for those of us of a certain age who made up most of the audience on opening night at the National Theatre for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical directed by Marc Bruni.
The cast led by the luminescent Sarah Bockel who transforms herself into Carole King, is uniformly wonderful. Suzanne Grodner as Carole’s mother Genie Klein has nearly all the funny lines in the show and delivers them with great timing. Dylan S. Wallach is totally believable as Carole’s talented and troubled husband Gerry Goffin. Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann who also has some good laugh lines was great. He and Alison Whitehurst as his writing partner and eventual wife, Cynthia Weil, are a joy to watch and listen to. Alison’s ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ which she uses to introduce herself to Don Kirshner, James Clow, is a showstopper. One jarring note for me was the portrayed of Neil Sedaka singing ‘Oh Carol’. I have seen Neil Sedaka in concert and didn’t think it did him justice.
The show opens with Carole King sitting at the grand piano. Then her singing ‘So Far Away’ is a reminder of the time that seems long ago when the music was easy to understand and so many of the singing groups and individual performers didn’t write their own music sang other peoples’ words and music. This was before the Beatles who really changed all that.
My memories of the groups who sang King’s songs; the Shirelles, the Drifters, The Righteous Brothers and individuals like Little Eva come from watching them on the Ed Sullivan show. The ensemble performers who make up the various groups are all great singers and have the choreography of the groups down to a tee. The Scenic design by Derek McLane is interesting and moves seamlessly from Carol’s home, to Kirshner’s office, to what was clearly meant to bring the Ed Sullivan show to mind. The costumes by Alejo Vietti are great and the lighting by Peter Kaczorowski adds immeasurably to the feel of the show. Clearly Susan Draus, music director, Jason Howland, Music Supervisor and Steve Sidwell who does Orchestrations, Vocal and Music Arrangements are key to making this an enjoyable evening of musical theater.
Beautiful is about Carole King’ life but the story is simply a way to showcase her iconic music. One gets a little background as to how a Brooklyn born girl, living through a troubled marriage, came into her own as an international star giving concerts at Carnegie Hall.
My seatmate at the theater, who is from a younger generation, told me after the show while he really enjoyed the music and the songs wondered about a time when so many became number one hits. He said he would go home and google Carole King as he had really never heard all that much about her. Hearing that made me feel old.
Clearly the memories this music brought out for me weren’t there for him. For me it was impossible not to tap my foot and move my body a little bit in my seat with each number and think about all the sweet sixteen party I attended where we played those 45 records. Each new song brought back new memories of my youth.
The later day Carole King, the environmentalist and fighter for causes is not in the show. It stops with the release of the iconic album Tapestry, her second album. The last two songs in the show sung by Sarah Bockel, ‘(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman’ and the iconic ‘Beautiful’ have you leaving the theater believing the world can still be good.
Beautiful will be at the National Theater through December 30th and it is a delightful evening whether you know the music or you are hearing it for the first time.