BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL - THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL Is A Satisfying, If Not Remarkable, Evening In The Theatre At The McCallum
Sometimes an evening in the theatre can be provocative, emotionally stirring, highly uplifting, mind-altering, eye-opening or even life-changing. Sometimes an evening in the theatre can bring you such immense joy or elation by the power of the story or the incredible performances that your very soul is set on fire and the "high" lingers far beyond the final curtain. Sometimes you feel that your life would be just a little emptier, or that you would have really missed out on something very special, had you not spent that evening in the theatre. BEAUTIFUL is none of these. But it's a nice evening, all the same.
There is nothing remarkable about this production although, with most of the credit going to the great musical catalogue from which it draws its strength, it is rather enjoyable and the talent, overall, is strong. In the "jukebox musical" genre I would rate it slightly above mediocre. Where "Jersey Boys" might be the industry standard, and "The Donna Summer Musical" might be the bottom of the barrel, BEAUTIFUL meanders somewhere in the middle. It feels like a lazy lifetime movie with a few cleverly humorous lines along the way and a story that never quite compels you to any sort of emotional high or low. It is satisfying, as most any night spent in the theatre can be. Certainly not a waste of time or money.
The cast is, no doubt, talented. The performances are all relatively strong yet few stand-out as more than servicing the play. Kathryn Boswell (Cynthia Weil), however, delivers a well-rounded and winning performance that is the exception. It is a star-turn in a supporting role and she is that one "stand-out". James Michael-Lambert displays keen comic timing and is a formidable match to Boswell. The other principal roles - Kennedy Caughill (Carole King), James D. Gish (Gerry Goffin) and Matt Loehr (Don Kirshner) never really rise above the book, which is uneven at best. It is all a bit lukewarm.
The vehicle of "songwriters introducing and/or auditioning their songs at the piano" grows weary by mid-Act One - in fact, the constant shifting of the pianos on stage to take us from location to location becomes more interesting. After hearing a song in its entirety by one of the writing teams at the piano (ie, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"), then re-living it again in its entirety by The Shirelles or The Drifters becomes highly repetitive. Especially because, with the exception of costume changes and choreography, those performances never take it to another level.
One of the shows finest moments - in musicality, energy, inventiveness, and staging - is the "1650 Broadway Medley". In fact, as the second number in the show, it gave me high hopes for the evening ahead. Sadly, nothing else in the ensuing two hours was comparable.
Derek McClane's scenic design is top drawer and feels like a "character" in the show. Josh Prince's choreography services the "era" but is truly unremarkable and nothing seems fresh or innovative. It never lifts the production, nor the audience, beyond the ordinary.
Despite this lukewarm critique, I would not dissuade anyone from spending an evening with the cast of BEAUTIFUL. It was pleasant and enjoyable. I would not necessarily run out to see it twice - but I am happy I got to experience it this once. And you will be too. The Carole King songbook (along with Goffin, Weil and Mann) does not disappoint and does leave you singing on the drive home. There's a lot to be said for just that.
BEAUTIFUL plays at the McCallum through Sunday, February 9th with performances at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm.