BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is Stunning at The Landmark Theatre

BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is Stunning at The Landmark Theatre
Julia Knitel. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The latest musical to grace the stage at Syracuse's Landmark Theatre is the U.S. tour of the jukebox musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Featuring a book by Douglas McGrath it showcases the early life and career of singer and songwriter Carole King. The music and lyrics featured in the production are by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, along with other top hits written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

The show opens set in 1971 at Carnegie Hall as Carole King (Julia Knitel) sings "So Far Away" at a grand piano. The scenery by Derek McLane then easily transports us to Brooklyn in 1958 and the audience meets the wide eyed and ambitious 16-year-old Carole King getting ready to go to Manhattan to sell her song "It Might as Well Rain in September" to Don Kirshner (James Clow). Carole meets Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), a lyricist, at Queens College. They start off as collaborators and then a romantic relationship ensues. More songs follow, and then the announcement that Carole is pregnant, and then they marry. During this time, Carole and Gerry write many hits for popular singers such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, and more.

Along the way to success, they meet and befriend Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Frankhauser), another pair of songwriters who are also romantically involved. Thus, begins a bit of a friendly competition.

Things start to fall apart though. Carole learns that Gerry is feeling suffocated in their marriage. He begins an affair with Janelle Woods (Erin Clemons). Gerry's cheating continues and then finally the two become divorced. After the divorce, Carole realizes that she is not just a songwriter. She needs to sing her words, the words she wrote on her own without Gerry.

The present touring cast under the direction of Marc Bruni delivers magical, powerful, and passionate performances so Carole's story and her songs are shared in the best possible way. A talented live orchestra, led by Susan Draus, helps bring the music - which is central to the story - to life in an incredible way.

In the title role Julia Knitel has amazing stage presence, impeccable comedic timing, and a powerful voice - all the attributes you need to play Carole successfully. She captures the essence of Carole King, the songwriter, with her emotional voice and obvious connection with the music. Knitel performs all the songs beautifully, but her standout moments include "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "It's Too Late," "You've Got a Friend in Me," and, of course, "Beautiful."

Liam Tobin is very believable as Gerry Goffin, especially when he slowly starts to feel suffocated by the suburban/family man way of life. His acting is spot on. He sings "Up on The Roof" with such pure longing emotion; it is simply captivating.

Olson is appropriately confident, independent, and poised in the role of Cynthia Weil. She perfectly shows off the ever-changing fashions of the 1960s into the 1970s wonderfully designed by costumer Alejo Vietti. Her rendition of "Happy Days are Here Again" is quite entertaining, and she has a chance to demonstrate her comedic chops as she interacts with Ben Frankhauser, playing Barry Mann. Speaking of Frankhauser, he is hilarious from the moment he steps on stage and that is without saying a word. His facial expressions are consistent throughout the show and are definitely entertaining. He is amusing in "Who Put the Bomp" and extremely likeable in "Walking in the Rain" and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place."

The supporting ensemble dazzles as they portray hit pop acts of the time such as The Drifters (Josh A. Dawson, Paris Nix, Jay McKenzie, and Avery Smith), The Shirelles (Erin Clemons, Rosharra Francis, Traci Elaine Lee, and Salisha Thomas), Janelle Woods (Erin Clemons), and Little Eva (Rosharra Francis). Standout Drifters numbers include "Some Kind of Wonderful" and especially "On Broadway." The latter benefits from the intricate choreography by Josh Prince. Rosharra Francis also shines very well in "The Locomotion." Andrew Brewer and John Michael Dias are highly memorable as the Righteous Brothers in "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." James Clow, as Don Kirshner, is heartwarming and comedic in "You've Got a Friend in Me."

The touring production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical offers a highly memorable experience. The breathtaking production is a must see if you are Carole King fan, a musical theatre fan, or just love good quality music. The show does not disappoint.

Running Time: Approximately two and half hours with one twenty-minute intermission.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs through April 23, 2017 at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, NY as part of the Famous Artists Broadway Theatre Series: Broadway in Syracuse. For tickets and information on the tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical click here. For tickets and information on The Famous Artists Broadway Theatre Series: Broadway in Syracuse click here.


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