Review Roundup: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The new musical, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, about the early life and career of the legendary and groundbreaking singer/songwriter opens tonight, Jan. 12, at the Sondheim Theatre on Broadway.
Tony Award-nominee Jessie Mueller stars as 'Carole King'; she's joined by Jake Epstein as 'Gerry Goffin', Anika Larsen as 'Cynthia Weil', Jarrod Spector as 'Barry Mann', Jeb Brown as 'Don Kirshner', Liz Larsen as 'Genie Klein', and an ensemble that includes Ashley Blanchet, E. Clayton Cornelious, Joshua Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Kevin Duda, James Harkness, Carly Hughes, Sara King, Rebecca LaChance, Douglas Lyons, Chris Peluso, Gabrielle Reid, Arbender Robinson, Rashidra Scott, Sara Sheperd, and Melvin Tunstall.
With a book by playwright and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince, Beautiful features a stunning array of beloved songs written by Gerry Goffin/Carole King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: "Unfortunately, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann are the secondary couple in Beautiful, a musical biography of Carole King that frequently pushes its central character aside for more interesting and entertaining moments played out by its skilled and talented supporting ensemble. It's no fault of top-billed star Jessie Mueller, who grabbed Broadway's attention for her jazzy stylings in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and displayed crack comical chops in The Mystery of Edmund Drood, that her first original starring vehicle downplays her talents until the last half-hour or so of the evening, as she plays a young Brooklyn girl with ambition who grows into a woman who seems content to stay in the background and live an ordinary suburban married life until circumstances force her to find her own voice....Beautiful's central plot is more of a soapy, shorthand connect-the-dots between hit songs....By the time Mueller is allowed to vocally let loose on "A Natural Woman" and wrap up the evening by wrapping her heart around the title tune, the genial inoffensiveness of the musical's creaky dramatics has denied her any chance of truly connecting the emotions of the songs to the character she's been playing all night, reducing the moments to merely chances to admire the artistry of a rising Broadway star being granted center stage. And for many, that'll be enough to make Beautiful a swell night out."
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "...as designed by Derek McLane (sets), Alejo Vietti (costumes) and Peter Kaczorowski (lighting), "Beautiful" nods so often to Michael Bennett's original production of "Dreamgirls" that it starts to resemble a bobblehead doll. Originality is clearly not this show's strong suit. With one very important exception. That's Ms. Mueller, a Broadway star in waiting for several years, who here steps confidently into the V.I.P. room of musical headliners...Much of what makes Ms. Mueller's performance so touching is its projection of a lack of confidence. There's a humility to Ms. Mueller's Carole, part of whom wants only to be a good Jewish wife and mother, preferably in the suburbs. She plays ego-boosting, self-effacing geisha to Mr. Epstein's philandering, mentally unstable Gerry....Modesty is not the usual stuff of Broadway showstoppers. And if "Beautiful" never acquires the flashy momentum of "Jersey Boys," it may come in part from the deferential gentleness of its heroine. But when Ms. Mueller sings the show's title song - sitting at a keyboard in, of course, Carnegie for the production's finale - she delivers something you don't expect from a jukebox musical. That's a complex, revitalizing portrait of how a very familiar song came into existence, and of the real, conflicted person within the reluctant star."
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: "In recent years, Mueller has brought a shimmering soprano and finely tuned comic sensibility to a variety of quirky ingénue roles. Mueller's portrayal of King - far and away the best reason to see Beautiful, which opened Sunday at Broadway's Stephen Sondheim Theatre - is at once an affirmation of those virtues and a revelation...Beautiful seems less concerned with exploring King's story than with using it to string together familiar tunes...Granted, shows like Beautiful aren't generally sought out or valued for their nuanced drama. But more discerning fans will be grateful for the little bit of soul that Mueller and Epstein manage to bring to Broadway's latest musical nostalgia trip."
David Finkle, The Huffington Post: "...it should have a long and healthy run, if, that is, the producers can either convince Jessie Mueller to remain in the title role forever or, failing that, if they can find replacements as enormously talented as she is and as cannily cast... Beautiful is snappily moved along by Derek McLane's shifting sets...But while everything mentioned above contributes to Beautiful, Douglas McGrath's libretto pulls it down several notches. Not so many that it threatens irreversible damage, but still."
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: "Even if you haven't memorized the King songbook, you will leave the Stephen Sondheim Theatre humming. Too bad a great musical isn't only about the music. The book is crucial, too - and this show's connect-the-dots story line is so simplistic that the extravagantly talented King's life emerges as a mundane version of the long-suffering little woman."
J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail: "Certainly, its prime attraction is the marvellous Jessie Mueller, avoiding impersonation, but otherwise perfectly channeling the contradictions of King (neé Klein), as she goes from precocious 16-year-old tunesmith in the late fifties to singer/songwriter star with the release of her seminal album Tapestry in 1971. Jake Epstein, the Canadian talent who first rose to fame onDegrassi: The Next Generation, ably co-stars as her husband/lyricist Gerry Goffin with whom she wrote chart toppers like Some Kind of Wonderfuland The Locomotion for artists like The Drifters and Little Eva...With a spotty script by Douglas McGrath, Beautiful often feels like an extended (and somewhat sanitized) episode of TV's Behind the Music...King, in this version of the story anyway, handles her husband's affairs and breakdowns with admirable restraint and understanding. This doesn't quite work as drama, though Mueller is such a scene stealer, so charming in her self-deprecation, that Beautiful never falls entirely flat."
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "The early life and career of legendary singer-songwriter Carole Kingsurely deserves more imaginative treatment than the corny chronological storytelling (And then we wrote ...) and old-fashioned musical format (scene/song/scene/song) of "Beautiful." But whenever this bio-musical stumbles over Douglas McGrath's flat-footed book, helmer Marc Bruni rushes to the rescue with some snazzy piece of stagecraft for the sleek production numbers. And all is forgotten, even momentarily forgiven, whenever Jessie Mueller, in the modest person of Carole King, sits down at the piano and pours heart and soul into familiar favorites from the composer's songbook."
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: "Watching Beautiful, the new jukebox musical celebrating the remarkable life and work of Carole King, you may not feel the earth move under your feet. But the new Broadway show emerges as a slick and joyous celebration of female empowerment. Like Jersey Boys, Beautiful features a smart, well-crafted, and often funny book (by Douglas McGrath) that cleverly threads together a memorable catalog of early rock hits such as ''Some Kind of Wonderful'' and ''Take Good Care of My Baby.'' It also boasts a winning central performance by Jessie Mueller as the shy Jewish girl from Brooklyn who only gradually comes into her own as a headlining voice of a generation... Beautiful fills the charisma vacuum with the substantial addition of King and Goffin's friendly songwriting rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, played with megawatt scene-stealing abandon by Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector..."
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: "Mueller shows us a reluctant star, a woman who only really starting singing out of necessity and would always have been happier with a few hit songs, a nice home and a man she really could trust. At the end of "Beautiful," she's not that different from how she is at the start. Most jukebox shows swing on that obscurity-fame-meltdown-comeback-maturity axis. "Beautiful," in its best moments, manages to suggest that the life of our artist is really just small moments that fall together, unknowingly."
Steve Parks, Newsday: "With Marc Bruni's crisp direction and Josh Prince's precision choreography, the hits segue seamlessly on Derek McLane's industrial grid set -- from drab office to glittery concert stage -- with the efficiency of a snappy line (libretto by Douglas McGrath) as we encounter live replicas of The Drifters, Shirelles, Righteous Brothers and Little Eva...Jessie Mueller strikes a delicate balance between spunk and humility, making it impossible not to root for her as she morphs into an inspired Carole King. Jake Epstein reflects Gerry's conflicted soul while Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector offer comic contrast to their songwriting rivals' discord. As Kirshner, Jeb Brown is a softy for anyone who writes a hit, while Liz Larsen struggles to rise above the mother-of-the-star cliches she's assigned.If there's one song among a dozen to hum on the way out of "Beautiful," it should be "Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow," exemplifying both the professional and personal side of this Gershwin Prize-winning genius."
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "'Beautiful' is a must-see if you're a King fan, or you're fascinated by the music business during a potent time when chart hits were coming out of cubicles in places like the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway, where King and husband Gerry Goffin set up shop...With an understated performance, Mueller, seen recently in the Roundabout's "Drood," establishes herself among the elite of Broadway leading ladies. The actress, 30, doesn't sound much like King, but she makes each song her own while respecting the original imprint. She has lovely chemistry with Epstein, who you can't help but feel a bit sorry for: he's on his game, but Goffin, who is said to have suffered from manic depression, comes off mostly as a wounded misanthrope."
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "Following in the footsteps of crowd-pleasers like Jersey Boys and Motown: The Musical, this is entertaining boomer bait that elevates its by-the-numbers narrative with great songs. It's also a tremendous showcase for the talented Jessie Mueller as she embodies King's blossoming from songwriter-for-hire to empowered performer of her own material...McGrath's book flirts openly (though not displeasingly) with sitcom dialogue, and by no means skirts the clichés and shortcuts of hackneyed behind-the-music chronicles. But the story, and perhaps more importantly, the characters, are never less than engaging...The ace up the show's sleeve, however, is Mueller's lovely performance as King, full of self-effacing humor, emotional depth and understated vulnerability. She conveys the burgeoning singer-songwriter's creative drive while wrestling quietly with her ingrained, old-fashioned sense of the expectations for a wife and mother. There's a disarming yearning quality to her characterization that makes us root for Carole to spread her wings. And her vocals are superb, capturing King's colloquial style while insinuating her own personality into songs that work like a time-travel machine for the musical's target audience."
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "Carole King has apparently never seen the musical of her life that has now reached Broadway. She walked out of an early reading at intermission, finding it too tough to take. Anyone not named Carole King may toy with the same idea, but for a different reason: It's just insipid...None of this is the fault of Jessie Mueller, the rising Broadway star who plays King with genuine feeling and a lovely voice. This paint-by-numbers show would have been a whole lot better if it was just turned into a concert with Mueller singing King hits...Is there any lesson to be gleaned from this musical? Don't write songs for others? Don't marry men who are bipolar? Perhaps it's the same as the one from "Motown the Musical," the Broadway jukebox show playing nearby with a flimsy and idolizing book by record company founder Berry Gordy: Don't write honest musicals about living people without breaking some eggs."
Matt Windman, AM New York: "Beautiful," a sentimental and sympathetic biography led by a poignant, extremely winning performance from breakout star Jessie Mueller, is slickly staged, genuinely touching and very enjoyable...It lacks the sin and sex appeal in "Jersey Boys," or the restless momentum of "Motown," and relies on feel-good nostalgia. Nevertheless, "Beautiful" is unusually coherent, character-driven and sincere for a jukebox musical. And who can resist those songs? So how can this not be a hit?"
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: "The show's book, by Douglas McGrath, registers mostly as a series of interruptions. While not exactly amateurish, it aims very low, settling for the tried and trite. ("You know what's so funny about life? Sometimes it goes the way you want and sometimes it doesn't.") A big boost comes, though, from the warmly natural portrayal of King by Jesse Mueller, who also possesses a lovely, supple singing voice."
Jesse Green, Vulture: "Everything in Beautiful sounds better on Jessie Mueller. Or, for that matter, on Jake Epstein as Goffin, Jarrod Spector as Mann, and Anika Larsen as Weil. To the extent the show remains bizarrely enjoyable despite its essential hackishness, it's this central quartet of performers who make it happen. (The musical arrangements by Steve Sidwell are also good - and bonus points for hiring Dillon Kondor, King's grandson, on guitar.) Of course, there are the songs themselves, which excuse many faults. At one point we hear an actor playing Neil Sedaka sing his 1959 hit "Oh! Carol," supposedly written in heartbreak over King, whom he'd dated. "It's a song, not a deposition," King tells her worried mother. Beautiful is no deposition, god knows; there's virtually nothing true in it. But at its best, and only then, it's a song."
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: "Here is arguably the nicest, most normal, least eccentric personality ever to be at the center of a Broadway musical. "Beautiful" is the show for theatergoers who don't like drama queens. Is there such an animal? The new Carole King bio musical "Beautiful," which opened Sunday at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, might more aptly be titled "Nice." "Beautiful," of course, is just one of the singer-composer's many hit songs. "Nice," though, is the word that best describes this showbiz musical that goes out of its way to prove that great talent isn't necessarily dramatic."
Photo by Joan Marcus