‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ at Stephen Sondheim Theatre – Review
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in January, is really two stories. One is the story of a nice, Jewish girl from Brooklyn who doesn’t always listen to her mother, meets a nice Jewish boy (also from Brooklyn), and tries to keep her family together, despite the odds. The other is the story of a woman who became the most successful female songwriter of the last half of the 20th century, having written or co-written 118 pop hits.
In both stories, our heroine encounters heartache as well as success, works in a factory (ok, it’s Don Kirshner’s song-writing factory, where white writers come up with one hit after another for black performers), writes some hit songs, has a baby, gets divorced, and single handedly breaks the glass ceiling for female songwriters of the period.
The show isn’t overly original, and follows along the lines of “Dreamgirls” or “Jersey Boys.” It’s more of a living jukebox filled with Carole King’s works, with minimal context and a cringe-worthy Jewish mother added. What people are coming to see is, however, Jessie Mueller, who as the very modest Carole King sits down at the keyboard and pours out her heart (and insecurity) in numbers such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
“Beautiful” goes back 12 years to when King met and married her writing partner lyricist Gerry Goffin (Scott J. Campbell). It’s a slow-moving story, punctuated by some of the best music to come out of the 60s and 70s.
Employed in the song-writing factory operated by music mogul Don Kirshner (Paul Anthony Stewart), the partnership is a huge success professionally but quickly fails romantically. Most of what constitutes drama in the performance revolves around their relationship and how it falls apart when he betrays her. The relationship is however proof that yin and yang or opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, at least insofar as producing hit tunes.
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