BWW Review: Intoxicating BEAUTIFUL - THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at The Fabulous Fox Theatre
What began in book writer Douglas McGrath's head as a jukebox musical centered around the relationship between competing songwriting teams Carole King and Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil evolved into something slightly different. This was due to the fact that the show stopped before Carole's ground-breaking, highly personal, and still relevant album, "Tapestry". So, the show was altered to place the emphasis on King's story, although there's still a lot of interplay between the couples. And, if you happened to catch the "American Masters" special on King on PBS, then her story will be familiar to you already, but you'll also catch a few historical inaccuracies here and there. BEAUTIFUL - THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is a wonderful look at King's rise to fame as a teen who could conjure up melodies that caught the public's ear. It's a sheer delight, packed to the hilt with gorgeous songs that are a part of pop culture history. This is a feel-good, genuinely terrific show that I urge everyone to see immediately!
So, the story follows a Brooklyn girl who plays piano and wants to be a songwriter. She follows her dreams and winds up having a hit. Remember that this was before a lot of groups began writing their own songs like The Beatles, so they often relied on other writers for material (even the lads from Liverpool covered "Chains" and other favorites on their early albums). Later she teams up with lyricist Gerry Goffin and, after Carole becomes pregnant, the pair marry. Their chief competition for the ear of music executive Don Kirshner is Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who also eventually marry. But, Gerry's wandering eye and philandering ways lead Carole down a different path in life. Her move westward, and the subsequent recording of her classic solo album, establishes her as one of the key singer songwriters of her generation.
Abby Mueller more than capably fills Carole's shoes, painting a portrait of an eager young girl thrust into a dream job, and a nightmare of a marriage. Mueller's voice and demeanor neatly captures King's own, and as she runs the gamut of emotion, we forget for a while that she's an actress playing the part. Liam Tobin is just as talented as Gerry, although with his sullen attitude, and need to feel part of the scene, you can sense the match isn't one that's made to last. Becky Gulsvig is a pistol as Cynthia Weil, and Ben Fankhauser is definitely amusing as a hypochondriac's delight in the role of Barry Mann. Curt Bouril surprises with his charismatic turn as Don Kirshner. It's especially interesting given all the negative feedback he's received over the years in interviews and articles with artists who worked with him. But, the man had a good ear for what sold back then, so you have to give him some credit. Sarah Bockel delights as Carole's mother, Genie Klein, and the entire supporting does solid work across the board, especially when called upon to recreate the artists who made these writer's songs the hits they became.
Marc Bruni's direction is nicely conceived, and every moment, whether musical, dramatic, or comedic works like a charm. Derek McLane's scenic design spins movable pieces and furniture in front of a cool backdrop depicting objects found in a recording studio. Peter Kaczorowski's lighting is flashy when called upon, and dramatic when needed. Music director Susan Draus does a wonderful job with unforgettable tunes such as: "So Far Away", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", "It's Too Late", and many, many others.
BEAUTIFUL- THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL is more than just your typical musical revue, it actually does tell most of King's story, and it does so with the soundtrack of many people's lives. Don't miss this amazing show. It continues at The Fox Theatre through March 6, 2016.