Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

November 4, 2015

in Musicals

Musical (2013)

Book by Doug McGrath
Words and Music by
Gerry Goffin and Carole King
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

Directed by Mark Bruni
Choreographed by Josh Prince

Broadway in Boston
The Boston Opera House
Washington Street, Boston

Through November 15, 2015

With Abby Mueller (Carole King), Liam Tobin (Gerry Goffin), Curt Bouril (Don Kirshner), Becky Gulsvig (Cynthia Weil), Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann), John Michael Dias (Neal Sedaka)

Carole King

Carole King

An entertaining and well-staged account of the early life and career of the singer/songwriter.

Carole King (Abby Mueller) née Klein, born and raised in Brooklyn, was sixteen when she broke into the music business in New York. Inspired to be a songwriter, she landed work with promoter and publisher Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril) and lined up professionally and personally with Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin). Married to Goffin at a very young age and incredibly successful with him as a songwriting team early on, it is hard to believe that King was ready for a major career change by her late twenties.

Carole Carole King, Paul Simon, Gerry Goffin as Queens College students in the late 1950s

Carole Carole King, Paul Simon, Gerry Goffin
as Queens College students
in the late 1950s

This simple, but charming and lively, musical based on King’s early career, tells that story about how she got into the music business, how she never thought of herself early on as a singer but only as a songwriter, and how her ups and downs with Goffin affected her choices and her destiny.

There is not a great deal of story here, but somehow this musical makes the most of what it does have as far as narrative goes to provide two and a half hours of quite reasonable entertainment. Putting together King’s and Goffin’s songs with those of friends and sometimes competitors Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) and Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig), the show offers sufficient musical engagement to require not overly much in the drama department, though what it does offer is touchingly enough portrayed to keep one’s attention.

Don Kirshner, Carole King, Gerry Goffin

Don Kirshner, Carole King, Gerry Goffin

The strategy is fairly consistent throughout – show the pairs of songwriters, mostly King and Goffin, coming up with the ideas for their hits, then offer some really lively singing and dancing from actors who simulate the great late fifties and early sixties acts who brought them alive – The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers and The Drifters. Throw in a moment or two of Neal Sedaka (John Michael Dias) swivelling his hips and belting out a couple of his own tunes, and you have an evening of very pleasant entertainment.

It is somewhat shocking to think that King was only twenty-nine when her second solo album, Tapestry, came out in 1971. (At 25 million copies sold, it became one of the best-selling solo albums of all time.) She was, by then, a mother of two girls, and an accomplished songwriter. King’s life and career had already seen significant dramas by this point, and the focus of Beautiful is simply that early period leading up to Tapestry, a snapshot of her quite early life and emergence as a solo artist.

Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil

Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil

The rather meager book is saved, not only by the great songs and the very good staging and choreography to support them, but, as well, by a script which has its own kind of wittiness. Funny lines enter at numerous points, and though one would not regard it as deeply penetrating dialogue, there is something catchy and amusing about it.

As well, this story of a charming, self-effacing, young, somewhat plain-looking, girl making it in the music business twice over, first as a songwriter and then as a singer, is an inspiring empowerment tale, its protagonist down-to-earth, sympathetic and personally appealing.

Abby Mueller gives a lovely performance as King, showing her stuff not only with a voice that is pleasant and one that she makes sound an awful lot like King’s, but also in very effective acting, particularly in her interactions with Liam Tobin’s Goffin. Goffin, in the less sympathetic role, also provides a decent dramatic counterpart and sings well also.

Becky Gulsvig, as Cynthia Weil, offers a perky complement to Mueller’s King, more angular and sharp. And Ben Funkhauser’s Barry Mann is a delightful addition to Gulsvig’s Weil, an effective combination of comically neurotic and musically adept.

Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Lou Adler, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann

Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Lou Adler, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann
Photo: Elissa Kline

Ironically and interestingly, Abby Mueller’s sister, Jessie Mueller, played King in this show on Broadway. Jessie was recently seen in the new musical Waitress at the American Repertory Theater and is slated to return to Broadway in it before too long. Having two talented sisters not only performing at a high caliber in the same business, but in the same role in the same show, is distinctive indeed.

Carole King

Carole King

– BADMan

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Madeline albert November 11, 2015 at 9:18 pm

What a “right on ” review Badman. You write so thoughtfully and beautifully, no pun intended!

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