Theater Review - Beautiful (NY)

A grand piano sits center stage in the opening scene of this newly-minted musical. And so it should. For those of us who have been listening to and loving Carole King’s music for many years, the Broadway show, “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical,” is a welcome treat tinged with sadness. Of course, Carole does not perform in it, but in the role of this composer, pianist, singer, actress and director Jesse Mueller is pluperfect. She is so natural in the part and has a wonderful voice, as she sings and pretends to accompany herself on the piano. She also pulls on the heart strings, for King’s steady rise to fame is much smoother than the path of her personal life, which is filled with bumps. Written by Douglas McGrath and directed by Marc Bruni, we first meet 16 year old Carole and her divorced mother, Genie, acted broadly by Liz Larsen. They live in Brooklyn. Carole has skipped grades and is already a freshman at Queens College; there she finds the love of her life and writing partner, Gerry Goffin. Intent on writing songs, she submits one to Don Kirschner. Played nicely by Jeb Brown, Kirschner points out the weakness of her lyrics, yet has the foresight to hire her and pair her with the lyricist Goffin, handsome Jake Epstein. In short order, King gets pregnant and the two marry, while turning out hit songs for groups like The Drifters (“Some Kind of Wonderful”) and The Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”) all portrayed by a talented ensemble. There is a fly in the ointment, however. Goffin seems to have emotional problems that frequently send him to the roof of their apartment building for air. Their move to a lovely house in the suburbs does not help and his affair with another performer while King is pregnant with a second daughter, leads to a painful permanent split. She leaves for California to become a great soloist. Another couple in the story, who provides competition and friendship, are the now-famed pop writers, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, depicted charmingly by Jarrod Spector and Anika Larsen. It took them some time to marry, but … amazing but true: Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann are still married and have continued to write hundreds of hit songs; Carole King has been married and divorced four times. Derek McLane’s scenic design, lit by Peter Kaczorowski, is simple and serviceable. Alejo Vietti’s costumes are cleverly designed. The stars of the production are the songs that we know so well: “So Far Away,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “It’s Too Late,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Up on the Roof,” “Beautiful” and my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend.” “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical” at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway.

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