“Beautiful” – A Delightful Jukebox Musical at the Bushnell

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By Karen Isaacs

 Carole King is an icon of the singer-songwriters on the 1970s when her album Tapestry spent six years on the charts. Yet many people do know how she got there.

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical that has returned to the Bushnell through March 31, concentrates more on King’s early years and only lightly touches on her life since the release of Tapestry.

 The show originally opened on Broadway in 2014 and was nominated for seven Tony awards, winning two including Jessie Mueller for her performance as King.

Any show of this type – juke box musical – depends on the quality of the songs and how well they are presented. In this regard, Beautiful excels.

The show opens with Carole Klein – just sixteen but a freshman in college – impressing Don Kirshner, a record producer who ran a workshop/office of songwriters at 1650 Broadway, to take a chance on her. Quickly she meets Gerry Goffin – also a college student but older and they are soon become composter/lyricist team. Along the way they develop both a friendship and a competition with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, another successful team.

All four are in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

Goffin and she marry when she becomes pregnant and they continue their partnership though tensions begin to appear. Now called Carole King, she wants the more conventional suburban life while Goffin feels restricted by it.  He wants to spend time going to clubs and staying in the city. Along the way, he has affairs with several performers and by the time King is 28, the partnership and marriage have broken up.

But in that twelve years, what songs they produced: “It Might as Well Rain until September,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,”  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “The Locomotion” “One Fine Day” many more.

Mann and Weil also produced numerous hits that get an airing in the show including “He’s Sure the Boy I love,” “On Broadway,” and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling.” Their relationship and romance is a counterpoint to King’s and Goffin’s.

Jukebox musicals that focus on the biography of the artists can either be very, very good OR a major disappointment. Jersey Boys is in the former category and many are in the latter. Beautiful falls in the very, very good category.

The story moves along and does not just regurgitate well known material. I would suspect that many King fans will learn something new. The book by Douglas McGrath may not be witty or unusual but it serves the material well. It keeps the story moving and creates three dimensional characters.

Another request of a good juke box musical is that the music is worthwhile. There’s no doubt that both King/Geffen’s and Mann/Weil’s songs are that.

This production has the look and feel of the Broadway production. The direction and choreography by Marc Bruni and Josh Prince keeps the show moving seamlessly from setting to setting and through the years. It is also blessed by excellent performers. Sarah Bokel who plays King, will be returning to New York soon to take over the lead in that production. She captures the essence of King and her voice but does not descend to imitation.

Dylan S. Wallace plays Goffin as the conflicted man he is. He had wanted to be a playwright and sometimes finds writing lyrics less fulfilling. He seems to be wanting more.

Alison Whitehurst Jacob Heimer as Weil and Mann are good counterweights to King and Goffin. Heimer emphasizes Mann’s Woody Allen tendencies while Whitehurst is the woman afraid that marriage will swallow her.

James Clow plays the music publisher Don Kirshner as both genial and hard-driving.

A variety of talented performers play the various groups that made these songs famous from The Drifters to The Shirelles to Little Eva and The Righteous Brothers. They are all terrific.

Beautiful – the Carole King Musical is an enjoyable evening at the Bushnell, particularly for those who have enjoyed King’s music over the years.

For tickets visit The Bushnell.


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