BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at Saenger
While the music is the centerpiece of this Broadway production, it digs much deeper into behind the scenes of King's life, which highly influence her melodies and lyrics. "BEAUTIFUL" opens with Carole, aged 16 years, with hair long and bouncy, dangling over her mother's piano as she performs "So Far Away," one of the hit songs from "Tapestry." Insecure about her chance at making it big in the music industry, she meets and falls in love with her future husband and partner Gerry Goffin. The relationship is at first a thing of newlywed magic but eventually turns sour as Goffin does not adjust to married life, preferring the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the '60s. In turn, he seeks out affairs, which leads to their divorce. Things end on a high note as the musical leads up to the final number that marks King's debut at Carnegie Hall, an announcement to the world of the musical powerhouse she had become. The show delivers a moving message of female empowerment along with the power of personal expression.
Even if you don't know the story of songwriter Carole King's rise to stardom, you'll know the songs when you go to see "BEAUTIFUL." Along with Goffin, King is responsible for a multitude of hits, many of which are instantly recognizable to this day. Some of those classic songs include the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," the Drifters' "Up on the Roof," Little Eva's "The Locomotion," Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care of My Baby," the Chiffons' "One Fine Day," the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
Unlike last year's "Motown: The Musical," which offered snippets of hits, "BEAUTIFUL" has several King songs performed in their entirety. Sometimes they begin during stripped-down demo sessions with King, Goffin and a piano only to segue into energetic live performances by the Drifters, the Shirelles, and the Chiffons.
If that's not enough to whet your musical taste buds, "BEAUTIFUL" also provides a subplot involving King and Goffin's Brill Building neighbors Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, who go on their own romantic complications as they write standouts such as "On Broadway," "Uptown" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Those well-versed in the music of the period will enjoy watching the rival couples as they try to one-up the other with the next number one hit. The jukebox musical format is a huge draw for baby boomers, who vocalized their approval of the show by singing along with the lyrics and bouncing to the beats they know well and love.
Julia Knitel is a smart, sharp Carole King, with a voice reminiscent of King herself, but with a sweeter tone. The show requires a lot from Knitel, who is convincingly aged from 16 to 30. Early on, she conveys the endearing enthusiasm of a young King with a cheery Brooklyn accent. Later she captures the famous artist, who is weary from love, but still, has her ever-present optimism. By far she is the sun that all others circle with her burning ambition infecting even the most stoic of audience members. She is remarkable.
As Gerry Goffin, Liam Tobin plays the part of the dissatisfied husband well. Driven, yet manic, he receives many gasps from the audience after admitting his desire for an affair, but the scene of his impending breakdown that gives us a clue to his instability and leads us to pity him.
Erika Olson and Ben Fankhauser are brilliant in the roles of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Their character personalities of the independent woman and sentimental hypochondriac prove that opposites really do attract.
"BEAUTIFUL" provides great nostalgia for lovers of a certain period when pop songwriting came of age, formed by artists like King who put their heart into their work and their soul reflected in the lyrics.
Don't miss out on this instant Broadway classic playing now through Sunday.