by: Sandi Durell
Carole King, nee Klein, was a Brooklyn girl who had the music in her. As a teen she just wanted to compose. But having a Jewish mother of the era, (played to the hilt by a naggy Liz Larsen) Mom said she should become a teacher. Lo and behold, Carole just couldn’t help herself and the rest is history . . . a painful, tender and tearful history at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre that captures the essence of Carole King and all the glorious music she penned.
Carole was smart, but was a rather plain girl, and upon seeing Gerry Goffin, a good looker at school, she developed another yen and, to her surprise, he also had a yen . . . for her, and writing poetic lyrics. A match made in heaven? Not exactly, but certainly for the hits they were to turn out working together at 1650 Broadway, the 60s music factory where producer Don Kirshner (a work ‘em to the bone type), played by Jeb Brown, kept a tight noose.
Casting Jessie Mueller as Carole King, was brilliant. She channels Ms. King both vocally and emotionally, taking on her modest persona, yet not impersonating. As Goffin, Jake Epstein embodies the troubled mind and confusion that plagued Goffin, eventually causing their breakup. His yens went further than writing as he couldn’t adjust to the day to day of marriage, being a husband and a father, needing more – – a fling here and there when it suited him. But they made beautiful music together; the songs, they just kept coming and more than “Be-Bop-A-Lula!”
Together they wrote many of the classic tunes – “Take Good Care of My Baby” – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” They wrote for the Shirelles and The Drifters, with some pretty spiffy choreographic moves (by Josh Prince).
But they weren’t alone because the 1650 writing factory also included Cynthia Weil (played by a great sounding and single minded Anika Larsen) and Barry Mann (a sweet, loving hypochondriac pop singing Jarrod Spector) who similarly met as teens, became lovers and longtime friends (and sometime competitors) of King and Goffin, writing their own hits – “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” – “Walking in the Rain.”
From King’s later years come the wondrous “A Natural Woman,” “So Far Away” and “Beautiful.”
It’s a song fest of great tunes written by these magical writers who made history that lives on. In the juke box musical spirit of “Motown the Musical” and “Jersey Boys,” The 2 hrs 25 minutes fly by under the deft direction of Marc Bruni. The book is written by Douglas McGrath.
The scenic design is by Derek McLane, costumes by Alejo Vietti with lighting by Peter Kaczorowski.
You will laugh, cry, sing along and definitely feel the urge to dance to your favorites of the 60s in this joyful celebration. Perhaps after all the reviews are in, Ms. King (reportedly not planning on seeing this show because of too many painful memories) will change her mind.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, 124 West 43rd Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes.
https://www.theaterpizzazz.com/beautiful-fit-king/ Video clips/interviews