San Francisco’s current, and unfortunately too brief, special engagement of the Tony® and Grammy® Award-winning Broadway hit “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical” retains its magic in this, its fourth run in the city. The world premiere of this well-deserved love-fest to singer/songwriter Carole King was held in San Francisco in September 2013, and it played two additional times in the City by the Bay over the ensuing years. The fans still love it, and rightly so.
“Beautiful” is lively, crisp and engaging, with terrific songs and music written by its biographical subjects, Gerry Goffin/Carole King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil. The acting is top notch. The musical arrangements (Orchestrations, Vocal and Music Arrangements by Steve Sidwell) are fabulous — so much better than in the original Gerry Goffin/Carole King three-minute pop song versions.
But most of all, what is enduring about “Beautiful” is the heartwarming story of the 16-year old teenager, Carole Klein from Brooklyn, who, despite setbacks and sadness, grew into the world-class entertainer Carole King. She is portrayed by the wonderful Sarah Bockel, whose lovely voice captures perfectly King’s timber and wide range.
Soon after the talented musician Carole Klein (who changed her name to King) entered the hectic world of New York’s Brill Building, that storied hit factory of the 1950s and 1960s, she met lyricist, Gerry Goffin (excellent Dylan S. Wallach). They married when the too-young couple found out that Carole was pregnant. Together they wrote (and “Beautiful” includes) the Billboard Hot 100 Number One hits, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” first sung by The Shirelles, “Take Good Care of My Baby” first recorded by Bobby Vee, and “The Loco-Motion,” first recorded by King and Goffin’s babysitter, Little Eva. Other 1960s hits, “Up on the Roof” first recorded by The Drifters, The Chiffon’s “One Fine Day” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” originally recorded by Aretha Franklin, are made to sound brand-new.
King and Goffin’s friendly competitors as songwriters, the talented and perhaps more exciting duo of Cynthia Weil (terrific Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (first-rate Jacob Heimer) are only the sidekicks in this story, although their song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” originally recorded by The Righteous Brothers, is the most played song of the 20th century.
The King/Goffin marriage falters as a result of his infidelities near the end of the first act of this two-act (one intermission) production and our hearts go out to Carole, now the 28-year old mother of two. Luckily the second act brings her most significant success, her album, “Tapestry,” which was number one on the Billboard 200 for 15 consecutive weeks and held the record for most weeks at number one by a female solo artist for over 20 years. “Beautiful’s” memorable tunes from “Tapestry,” with words and music by King, include “You’ve Got a Friend,” “It’s Too Late,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” and, of course, “Beautiful.”
Marc Bruni’s direction and Josh Prince’s choreography are outstanding. There are some amazingly quick costume changes (Alejo Vietti), and the scenic design (Derek McLane) is always light and fluid, with moving panels, so that the set enhances but does not usurp the main action.
“Beautiful” glosses over many of the hard truths of the 1950s-1960s pop music business, including the unfair advantage producers and managers took of the artists, the payola scandals, and the “covering” by white performers of black performers’ music. Some might think this is a shortcoming, but by focusing on Carole King the person, her music and her growth as a woman, the audience is treated to a complete and entirely engaging story, rather than a catalog of incidents about the music business. With “Beautiful,” you leave the theater with songs on your lips and in your heart.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2019 All Rights Reserved