The plot of the musical Beautiful–The Carole King Musical, currently on a national tour stop at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, is nothing new, nor is the format of interspersing songs from the artist being depicted within the framework of said plot. It’s all in the execution and the invention that the creative team comes up with in bringing it to the stage.
Douglas McGrath’s sweet, funny and ever so cannily teardrop inducing script, songs not only by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, but also Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil ground the story well. The period-perfect choreography by Josh Prince is enough to keep you all shook up, and Marc Bruni’s direction plays it as fast but not furiously frenetic, and shows the 4 principal characters as real people, with nobody, including Miss King herself shown without a few warts, alongside their talent. Beautiful lives up to its title, and then some!
Beautiful tells the true story of King (born Carol Klein), her college romance with Goffin, and an unplanned pregnancy and marriage before either was really ready them. It also follows King’s meteoric rise to stardom, and her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. When Goffin and King’s marriage crumbles, she rises from the ashes of a romance gone bad to become one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history, with perhaps her career high album Tapestry, which topped the U.S. album chart for 15 weeks in 1971 and remained on the charts for more than six years.
As King, Julia Knitel is a songstress, actress, and pianist supreme. She easily holds focus, though the show is by no means a star biography in the Funny Girl mode, or a glossy, well-built, heartless and cold contrast between hit songs and good guys, a la Jersey Boys. It’s not hard to see that King’s marriage to the brilliant, but mood-swinging Goffin is likely to hit the rocks, but Liam Tobin creates a likable, troubled, womanizing, but by no means bad guy, and one who can really put-over a song. Erika Olson handles a lot of wry comedy as Cynthia Weil and is the perfect odd-couple match with Ben Fankhauser, who scores big as her writing partner/main squeeze, the hypochondriacal Barry Mann. Suzanne Grodner is an absolute stitch as Carole’s bossy, but loving Jewish mother Genie, and is hilariously bewigged a la Ethel Merman in the mid 1950’s. Carole and Gerry’s longtime mentor Don Kirshner is knowingly played with a wise-guy wink and the manner of a recording mogul by the winning Curt Bouril.
Every single ensemble member seems to get a stand-out moment, but I particularly enjoyed Rosharra Francis as Little Eva wailing “The Locomotion.” And that’s only one of the hits here, along with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”, “So Far Away”, “It’s Too Late”, “You’ve Got A Friend” and (“You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, and many more, wonderfully arranged by Steve Sidwell.
Derek McLane’s scenic designs are versatile, flexible and fluid. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design is state of the art sumptuous. Alejo Vietti’s costume designs are plentiful and always right from Carole’s 60’s housewife look to the glitzy garb in the performance scenes by the vocalists and group. And Brian Ronan’s Tony award winning sound design is a marvel!
In short, this show may have won only 2 of the 7 Tony award nominations it garnered in 2014 (the show is still running on Broadway) but it provides everyone from confirmed theatre subscribers to sometimes jaded critics with a show to root for and embrace, because, well, it is beautiful.
Beautiful-The Carole King Musical is at The Paramount Theatre through October 30, 2016, To purchase tickets, visit stgpresents.org, by calling 877-STG-4TIX (784-4849) or in person at The Paramount Theatre Box Office (Monday through Friday, 10am to 6pm). Tickets start at $30.