BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is Stunning!
Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann...what do these four people have in common? An insane amount of songwriting talent! A history filled with awards. And a story worth telling through their melodies and lyrics.
BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL currently playing at Omaha's Orpheum is what my friend called, "My new favorite musical." Not a typical jukebox musical, BEAUTIFUL doesn't just sing through a list of songs and try to make a story fit. This is a close to real life story of four songwriter friends revealed through three decades of hits.
Opening with Carole playing at Carnegie Hall, the story flashes back to the 1960s when ponytailed, teenaged Carole visits music publisher Don Kirshner and plays her song for him. Impressed, he signs her to Aldon Music. There she meets her future songwriter husband, Gerry Goffin, and they go on to collaborate on an astounding number of hit songs. They build a close, but competitive, bond with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Throughout the next thirty-some years, they write some of the most well loved music, garnering an impressive array of awards.
Both real life couples have received the National Academy of Songwriters' Lifetime Achievement Award. Both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. King, Weil, and Mann all were honored with the Johnny Mercer Award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Songwriters Hall of Fame to artists who have established a history of outstanding creative work. And what a history it is! King, since her solo debut in 1960, has had 400 of her compositions sung by more than 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles. Weil and Mann won 112 pop, country, and R&B awards from Broadcast Music, Inc. and 115 Millionaire Awards for songs played on the radio a million times or more.
Weil and Mann's "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" was the most performed song of the twentieth century. "Here You Come Again," made popular by Dolly Parton was the most performed country song of 1977.
King's 1971 solo album "Tapestry" won an unprecedented four GRAMMY Awards for a female writer/artist. It remained the number 1 album for several years until finally edged out by Michael Jackson's "Thriller." "Tapestry" was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1998.
In 2013, King made history again by being the first woman to receive the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Presenting the award at the White House, President Barack Obama said, "Music often is a place where people seek comfort and inspiration during trying times."
King, Goffin, Weil, and Mann had years of trying times. King was married four times. BEAUTIFUL focuses on her first marriage to Gerry Goffin. His infidelities, mood swings, and insecurities inspired some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s. King's deteriorating relationship with Goffin led her to write her 1967 solo song, "The Road to Nowhere." Her road was definitely not going nowhere.
A line in the beginning of the show goes like this: "Sometimes life goes the way you want and sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes when it doesn't, you find something beautiful."
BEAUTIFUL opened on Broadway in 2014 and won a GRAMMY for Best Musical Theater Album along with two Tony Awards. The current New York cast includes Carole King understudy, Sarah Bockel, who was flown in to Omaha from New York to fill in as King. Bockel is a nice surprise, fulfilling every expectation for an emotionally wrenching role.
The entire cast is a gift to the ear. Because the songs are so catchy, so memorable, and the voices so pure and strong, BEAUTIFUL is a show that I could see over and over again without becoming tired. Sarah Bockel, Liam Tobin as Gerry Goffin, Ben Fankhauser as Barry Mann, and Erika Olson as Cynthia Weil are not just great singers; they are great actors. They are so real that you will be swept away with their stories without being distracted by unbelievable or flat characters.
The ensemble is equally as wonderful. The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers...they all come alive on stage. Sometimes they are reminiscent of high school show choir, which is highly amusing if you've been around show choirs. They are always entertaining while filling the Orpheum with thrilling harmonies.
Douglas McGrath, writer of the book for BEAUTIFUL, is incredibly funny. His humor is not slapstick or predictable. It's unexpected. It sneaks up on you and you guffaw because the remark came out of nowhere. Lines like, "I have the right amount of body; it's just not organized right," and "You have a beautiful smile." "I do? I can't see it from in here." Or "lyrics a dolphin could write." McGrath has written for Saturday Night Live (SNL) and collaborated with Woody Allen in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. His talent is apparent.
BEAUTIFUL is pure entertainment. It is a walk down memory lane. It is a history lesson. It is all this and more. Pleasing in every way, I urge you to get a friend (I know you've got one) and buy your tickets before "It's Too Late!"
Photo: Sarah Bockel courtesy of beautifulonbroadway.com