BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROL KING MUSICAL delight at Conner Palace
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
As the curtain rises, it's 1971, Carole King is on stage at Carnegie Hall. She sings, "So Far Away," one of her classic hits. Thus starts BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL, now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway series
King is being portrayed by the very talented Abby Mueller. Mueller. Sound familiar? Her sister, Jessie Mueller, won the Tony Award for her portrayal of Carol in the original Broadway production of the show.
BEAUTIFUL is a juke box musical in which a story is written, and previously released music is shoe-horned into the script. Think MAMMA MIA!, JERSEY BOYS, AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', LOVE JANIS, and THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. No new music was written specifically for the show as the reason for selecting the person(s) or topic is that the songs have already been penned.
In contrast to many other juke box musicals, the songs for BEAUTIFUL seamlessly flow into Doug McGrath's nicely honed story. The segues aren't forced, the songs are logical choices for the tale being told. They develop the story not only of King, but of rock and roll, itself.
Not only are there King classics, and those co-written with her husband, Gerry Goffin, such as "Some Kind of Wonderful," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," and "One Fine Day," but there are reimagined performances by the likes of Neil Sedaka, The Drifters, and The Righteous Brothers, as well as tunes by Cynthia Weill, Barry Mann and Phil Spector.
The story tells the tale of Carole King, a 16-year old Brooklyn high school student, who goes into Manhattan to sell a song to music publisher Don Kirshner, the rock music producer, talent manager and songwriter, who was known as the "Man With the Golden Ear," because of his ability to identify potential hit songs and match them with the appropriate talent.
Genie, her mother, is opposed to the idea. Being a typical headstrong young lady and true to her Brooklyn heritage, Carole goes anyway. She not only sells Kirshner "It Might As Well Rain Until September,' but he asks for more. Thus, her song writing career is launched.
While attending Queens College, she meets handsome lyricist Gerry Goffin In spite of her inferior complex over her lack of beauty, the duo falls in love and start to collaborate not only as song writers, but as lovers. When she gets pregnant, they get married.
Eventually Goffin's philandering ways destroys the marriage, King moves to California to write more hits, and becomes a performer with the success of her performance album "Tapestry," which includes the poignant, "(You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
The show ends on a high note. When King comes back to New York to appear at Carnegie Hall, Goffin comes to her dressing room to apologize for all the ways he hurt her. King comes onto the stage, sits at the piano, and sings "Beautiful."
Curtain! Applause, applause, and more applause.
BEAUTIFUL premiered in San Francisco in 2013, and made its Broadway debut, with direction by Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince in January, 2014, to rave reviews. The touring production, with the same director and choreographer, started in September, 2015 with the projected run ending in San Francisco in August.
Talent obviously runs in the Mueller family. Abby is as good as Jessie was in her recreation of Carole King. She has a solid voice, sounds a lot like Carole King, complete with many of the physical mannerisms and vocal shadings. She is a convincing actress and sings song meanings, not just words.
Canadian born, matinee star handsome, Liam Tobin, who has never been on a Broadway stage, has a strong stage history. He has a big voice and hits the vocal and verbal notes well as the psychologically fragile Gerry Goffin.
Betsy Gulsvig, who will appear in the April 5-10 performances (she is triple cast), delights as Cynthia Weil. She has a nice touch with comedy, and sings and acts with ease. Playing opposite her is the scene stealing Ben Fankhauser, as the hypochondriacal song writer, Barry Mann. Fankhauser has a wonderfully expressive face, and puppy dog eyes, which he uses to get laughs. He has the verbal ability to clearly key his many funny lines.
Suzanne Grodner uses every Brooklyn mother's stereotypical accent and attitude to milk laughs as Genie Klein, Carole's mother.
The rest of the cast is strong. The singing and dancing are top notch.
The choreography is dynamic and creative. "The Locomotion" had the audience rockin' in their seats!
This is no cheap imitation of a Broadway show. The scenic and costumes designs are high quality. The orchestra sound is full.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL is a solid script which gets a superior production that should delight local audiences. Every element of the juke box show, the performances, the visual effects and the musical sounds are appropriately "beautiful!"
Tickets for BEAUTIFUL, which runs through April 17 , 2016 at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.