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BWW Reviews: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL - A Hit Show with a Bullet


SHNSF's Curran Theatre in San Francisco hosts the world premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical - a hit-filled bio-musical about the woman whose songs epitomized the late 60s and early 70's. Her album 'Tapestry' (with songs like "It's Too Late," "I Feel the Earth Move," and "You've Got A Friend") soared to #1 and stayed on the charts for a record-breaking six years. King's story is the stuff of dreams, but heartache came first as it often does. How she moved from churning out hit after hit for other artists, to playing Carnegie Hall as a solo artist, is what 'Beautiful' is all about. Playing now through Oct. 20 before it heads to Broadway, 'Beautiful' is a hit show with a bullet.
Instead of getting her degree and becoming a teacher like her mama wanted her to, young Carol Klein schlepped her songs from Brooklyn to the famed Brill Building on Broadway in Manhattan, determined to make a name for herself in the music business.
A name change to Carole King, complete with new husband Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein) for a writing partner, and she was on her way. She and Goffin became part of the hit-making factory run by Don Kirshner (the likeable Jeb Brown) alongside Cynthia Weil (Anika Larsen) and Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector) another writing team that defined the times as well.
Tony and Drama Desk Nominee Jessie Mueller (The Mystery of Edwin Drood; 'On a Clear Day') simply shines as King, channeling the shy, young songwriter and capturing her vocal intonations to perfection. Epstein is wonderful as her hunky husband whose drive to stay ahead of the trends later leads to disaster.
Douglas McGrath's book lightly weaves its way through the hit songs (oh, so many hit songs) following each beloved melody with a morsel of story. While the hit parade is amazing, what's missing is the way traditional musicals use songs to allow characters to reveal their innermost feelings, fears and passions. You start longing for more depth but it isn't until Act II that things get meatier. That's when a betrayed and then divorced King finally finds her voice and muscles up the courage to perform in public. When she does, it's beautiful.
If you've seen the album cover for Tapestry, or any of King's other covers, then you know that she embraced a hippie style of dress and that her soft and unshaped curls befitted the times as well. Costume designer Alejo Vietti easily captures King's non-assuming style while Charles G. LaPointe's wig designs do justice to the era as well. But Derek McLane's scenic design is industrial and cold. The hard edges of the steel, with a square and rectangle motif, are jarring when paired with the soft pop/rock vibe that was King's realm.
As King's marriage unravels her instinct is to hunker down, but her music compels her forward, providing a way to heal and allowing her to be among the first of the new generation of singer-songwriters.
'Beautiful' is, in a word beautiful. Visit San Francisco and see it now before 'it's too late' and it moves to Broadway.
Through: Oct. 20
Curran Theatre, San Francisco
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

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From This Author Linda Hodges