BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at Providence Performing Arts Center
BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL playing right now at the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) is the most jukebox of juke box musicals. With a book by Douglas McGrath, it tells the story of King's life and career using songs that she wrote, often together wither sometimes partner and spouse Gerry Goffin, and other contemporary songs by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector and others. What makes it the "most juke box?" In a play that runs two and a half hours (including intermission), the very talented cast performs over twenty-five songs. Why so many songs? It's a play about songwriters whose best friends are songwriters, who among them wrote some of the most popular songs of the sixties and seventies. With so many songs to cover, McGrath let the music carry the first act and left the story of King's metamorphosis from composer to singer songwriter to Act 2. Somebody is doing something right because BEAUTIFUL opened on Broadway in January of 2014 and has been running ever since. This stop in Providence is the second in our fair city since it went on tour in 2015. As near as I could tell, everybody present had a helluva time last night.
So what's to like? If there's going to be that much music, it had better be good, and BEAUTIFUL has enough hit music to warm the heart of even the most jaded baby boomer. That King wrote so many hits was a revelation to me. Who knew she wrote "Upon the Roof," One Fine Day," Take Good Care of My Baby," and "the Locomotion?" Who knew her friends Barry and Cynthia wrote "On Broadway" and "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling?" I sure didn't. As good as these songs are (to my ears anyway), the production is just as good. Sarah Bockel as King has a lovely, earthy voice, and each hit song received a knock-out production: from Bockel herself; to Dimitri Joseph Moise, Avery Smith, Michael Stiggers, Jr., and Kristofer Stanley Ward as the Drifters; to McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Tracie Elaine Lee, Marla Louissaint and Alexis Tidwell as the Shirelles; and topping out with John Michael Dias and Matt Faucher as the Righteous Brothers. These people could sing and dance, and each number scored.
The first act was too crowded with music to allow for much acting, but Suzanne Grodner as King's mother and Jacob Heimer as Mann managed some laughs. The second act gave Andrew Brewer as Goffin and Bockel more opportunity to explore the couple's problems, and I thought they delivered. Sarah Goeke as Cynthia Weil was solid throughout, both in her vocals and mostly comic acting. By the time show arrives at King's transformation in a wonderfully staged and lit version of "Beautiful, the audience was pretty much on board, and the closing number, ""I Feel the Earth Move," brought down the house as well as the curtain.
BEAUTIFUL runs at the PPAC, 220 Weybosset St., Providence, until MARCH 4. Evening performances are 7:30 weeknights, 8:00 on Saturday and 6:30 on Sunday. Matinees are at 2:00 Saturday and 1:00 Sunday. Tickets begin at $47.00. The box office can be reached at (401) 421-2787 or online at www.ppacri.org. PPAC is a completely accessible venue. Go. Have fun. It will take a while to get the tunes out of your head-you won't be in any hurry.