BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at Starlight Theatre
Jukebox musicals have become a too dominant form both on Broadway and for its touring cousins. The music is familiar and audiences flock to relive old favorites. "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" playing this week at Starlight Theatre is one of the best of this form. It does not take itself terribly seriously. It is very entertaining and works very well on KC's huge, outdoor, crown venue. A great cast, excellent direction and choreography, and slick staging make this 1913 Broadway offering something to definitely see if you have the opportunity.
It is never easy to become a doppelganger for a living person, especially one who is still an active performer, but Chicagoan Sarah Bockel imbues her heart, soul, and excellent musicianship into a really good interpretation of Carole King. I would come to hear Sarah anytime. She has even done a stint as Carole in the Broadway production.
The show opens and closes at a 1971 solo performance for Carole at Carnegie Hall following the release of her groundbreaking album "Tapestry." Bockel introduces King singing "So Far Away." The remainder of the show is told in flashback beginning in the Klein home when Carole is only sixteen and on her way to sell her first song to record producer- pop music impresario Don Kirshner (James Clow). The time is the late 1950s.
Carole's Mom (Suzanne Grodner) advises Carole that she should give up her song writing aspirations in favor of a career as a teacher. "Men write music... Women teach it," she opines. Carole convinces Mom Klein to allow her one more try. Carole and her college friend Betty (Elise Vannerson) will visit the 1650 Broadway office of pop producer Don Kirshner. Carole sells her first song "It Might As Well Rain Until September." Kirshner advises Carole that she needs to hook up with a lyricist.
She is soon introduced to college classmate and aspiring playwright Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach). The duo is an instant hit and it isn't too long before they hook-up as more than just writing partners. A pregnant Carole marries Gerry and they are fortunate and successful enough to share an office in Don Kirshner's office building. Next door will be their competitors and ongoing best friends Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer).
"Beautiful" is fortunate in that these five actors really click. The charm of the show goes further than the music. We like the snappy dialog and the comedy perfect timing of the main players in addition to their delightful musicianship.
The main conflict in the show surrounds the breakup of Carole's marriage to Goffin. He has a wandering eye and an eventual nervous breakdown. Libretto writer Douglas McGrath is an excellent dialog writer. He lets us laugh and resists the temptation of making Goffin the villain of the piece. While he is not made into a hero, he is allowed to be a sympathetic victim of his own shortcomings.
King, Goffin, Mann, and Weil came to prominence as songwriters. Playwright Doug McGrath and Director Marc Bruni grab onto the songs and allow them to be performed mostly by members of the ensemble as the original R&B and Pop groups who made them hits. All these folks are exceptional performers and using them throughout offers variety to the audience and takes some of the load off of the lead players. It is a wise production choice.
"Beautiful" is a fun evening. The use of the new video system at Starlight above the stage works well for this show. The new fans moving air twenty-five feet or so above the auditorium will be helpful as the summer heat begins to close in on Kansas City. Tuesday evening was delightful.
"Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" continues at Starlight Theatre through June 30 inside Swope Park. Tickets are available at www.kcstarlight.com or by telephone at 816-363-7827. Next up at Starlight is Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Cats" beginning July 9.
Photos courtesy of Starlight Theatre.