BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL, Sparkles at Aronoff Center
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, playing at The Aronoff Center for the Arts in Cincinnati through May 14th, is as well-constructed and entertaining as any of Ms. King's many hit tunes. And if Tuesday night's audience is any indication, it appeals to super-fans, casual-fans and to men and women of all generations. The crowd was all smiles as they were helpless to resist tapping feet along with hit after hit-"The Locomotion," "Some Kind of Wonderful," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," to name just a few. And though most in the audience had probably heard these songs nearly a million times (I'm exaggerating...only slightly), the talented cast brought such charisma to the sparkling and condensed arrangements that the songs seemed brand new. Audible gasps of giddy recognition accompanied every tune as the audience was carried away with nostalgia. The very tone-deaf woman next to me even sang aloud to each and every song, but everyone was in such a good mood that no one seemed to mind.
Though the hit parade keeps on rolling through the entire two hours and 20 minutes (she wrote a lot of hits), the show is able to rise above being just a showcase for Carole King's songs. It follows a very clear and interesting arc. Writer Douglas McGrath, who you might know from his co-writing credit (with Woody Allen) and Academy Award nomination for the screenplay of Bullets Over Broadway, tells the engaging story of Carole King's rise from young dreamer to star of her own Carnegie Hall concert following the enormous success of her solo album Tapestry. These successful but sometimes tumultuous years between 1959 and 1971 see Carole selling her first hit song to Don Kirshner, her marriage to lyricist Gerry Goffin, the births of their two daughters, their friendly competition with songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, her move to California, the recording of Tapestry, and finally her triumphant concert at Carnegie Hall. The years fly by in McGrath's economical script as he takes some license with Ms. King's timeline, leaving out the more uneventful moments in her life to focus on her "greatest hits." The songs are cleverly and effectively merged with the story, not only as a chronology, but as a backdrop to the actual emotions of the characters as they fall in love, find success, divorce each other, and move away. Adding the songs of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil was a little touch of genius as it added a compelling side-plot and kept the story from becoming claustrophobic.
As Carole, Julia Knitel was a delight. She carried the show both with an endearing and self-effacing humor as well as considerable brio, her adorkable mousiness dissolving into clear confidence every time she sang. The ensemble was extremely strong as they morphed into super groups and teen idols like The Drifters, Neil Sedaka, and the Shirelles. Standouts from the ensemble included Andrew Brewer and Jacob Heimer as The Righteous Brothers--Brewer perfectly matching the in-the- basement bass-baritone of Bill Medley. Erika Olson (Cynthia Weil) and Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann) had an ease with each other that made them a dynamic and entertaining duo as they navigated their professional and romantic entanglements.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical won't be around much longer; it runs at The Aronoff until May 14th. This is a good one to see with family, especially those of the Baby Boomer generation. Go here for tickets or more information.Fankhause
PHOTO: Curt Bouril as Don Kirshner, Liam Tobin as Gerry Goffin, Julia Knitel as Carole King, Ben Fankhauser as Barry Mann & Erika Olson as Cynthia Weil in the national tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, photo by Joan Marcus