BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is Some Kind of Inspirational Wonderful
You don't even have go in a fan to enjoy Beautiful: The Carole King Musical but once you are at The Fabulous Fox and are reminded of all one woman has accomplished in a lifetime of singer/songwriting, you just may go out humming her entire body of work.
In this inspiring jukebox musical, high-achieving 16-year-old Carole Klein (Sarah Bockel) from Brooklyn will not be patronized, will not be told no, and will not be stopped as she works her way into the record business at 1650 Broadway. By her early 20s, Carole, now known as King, is married to her songwriting partner and dream guy, Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach), with whom she shares a daughter and has another on the way. They seem to have almost everything--even her long-desired home in the suburbs. Their romantic partnership extends to and complements the success of their music, but as they begin writing many of the decade's most well-liked pop songs, the pair is thrust into stardom, which brings its own set of challenges to the partnership. Carole's inherent talent and responsibility keep her centered, but Gerry's perpetual thirst for something more puts the relationship in jeopardy. The secondary story in this musical includes a delightful friendship and healthy competition with fellow writers Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer), whose own romance stands in contrast to the conflicts between Carole and Gerry. And along their journey, as luck would have it, we the audience are the beneficiaries of the foursome's competitive songwriting goals, enjoying hits like "Some Kind of Wonderful," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "The Locomotion," "One Fine Day," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," and of course, the show's title song, "Beautiful."
This musical really is some kind of wonderful, with a clear shift in complexity with each hit. As their music matures with the passage of years and as the foursome gains more and more life experience, their difficulties become more grown-up and real. One tiny complaint is that as we swiftly move through the years, these characters make artistic success look a little too easy. Also, the conflicts are largely romance-related, which gives the musical a regressive feel about it and is in direct conflict with the muscle asserted by the heroine to get this career off the ground in the first place. On the whole, the story is quite a lot funnier than I expected it to be, with a special nod to Heimer, whose awkward charm and hilarious hypochondrial episodes are the source of many laugh-out-loud moments. Notable performances also include Bockel, who performs with an astonishing amount of measured control. She is both subtle and fierce, moving in and out of scenes that captivate and provoke deep empathy. Wallach is a strong male lead (as he would have to be to not be outshined by the brilliance of Bockel), and Whitehurst makes an enchanting and entertaining modern woman. Both cast and musicians feel much larger than they are with the incredible versatility they all exhibit.
Added to the sweet harmonies (be still my heart during a buttery smooth "On Broadway" and "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" especially) are the rich visuals this show offers up. Derek McLane's scenic design is full of opulent golds and wonderfully period-appropriate accents. Hello autumnal Tupperware tumblers! Alejo Vietti's costumes are a buffet of vintage deliciousness for the eyeballs. Carole's wigs and wardrobe as she ages are brilliantly designed, and there are a couple of quick changes that will leave you feeling like you just witnessed the most breathtaking kind of stage magic.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, directed by Marc Bruni, with a book by Douglas McGrath, and words and music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, is a jukebox musical about "finding something beautiful when life doesn't go the way you want," and it's a stirring story of coming into one's own in an age where "girl songs" were designated as such. In all, it's a highly palatable story that is easy to digest. You can see it through March 17 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit https://www.fabulousfox.com/events/detail/beautiful.