Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
Through July 17
The 2014 Tony-nominated Carole King bio follows the successful “and-then-we-wrote” dramatic template established by the 2006 Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys. King’s evolution from a timid 16-year-old nice Jewish girl — Carole Joan Klein from Brooklyn in 1958 — to the transcendent songsmith who created the landmark solo album, Tapestry, in 1971, does not possesses the dramatic weight of the more colorful story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with its foray into juvenile delinquency. But director Marc Bruni’s fluidly staged 27-song sampling of some of the best pop hits of the late 50s and early 60s makes palatable the bland star-crossed partnership/romance/breakup of melody-maker King (Abby Mueller) and lyricist Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin).
This touring show at the Pantages opens with a short taste of King’s 1971 career-establishing concert at Carnegie Hall (“So Far Away”). From there, Bruni and choreographer Josh Prince, aided by the modular sets of Derek McLane, quickly flash back to 1958, projecting the chaotic energy of the Manhattan song factory at 1650 Broadway, ruled over by the benevolent music publisher, Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril). It’s here that King teams up with fellow college student, Goffin.
At this point, the storyline is goosed along by the much-need teaming up of another boy/girl songwriting team, lyricist Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig) and composer Barry Mann (Ben Frankhauser), a veritable powerhouse of comedy compared to the somber connubial machinations of our central protagonists. Along the way, the friendly competition between the two couples provides an impressive display of such King/Goffin fare as “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up On the Roof,” “The Locomotion” and “One Fine Day.” The Weil/Mann duo counter with “He’s Sure The Boy I Love,” “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Walkin’ In the Rain” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
In an effort to display both the song-writing process and the chart-busting finished products, the show utilizes the device of having the composers’ earnest vocals segue into sealed-in-plastic peppy outings by ‘60s pop stars The Drifters (Josh A. Dawson, Paris Nix, Jay McKenzie, Noah J. Ricketts) and The Shirelles (Ashley Blanchett, Britney Coleman, Rebecca E. Covington, Salisha Thomas). The performances are indicative of the style of the times, but it is disappointing when Tobin’s life-troubled Goffin offers an emotionally endearing “Up On the Roof,” culled from his painful personal history of family dysfunction, only to have it morph into the comically over-choreographed performance of The Drifters.
As it should be, the viability of this tune-fest rests on the gentle, deceptively fragile persona of Abby Mueller’s Carole King, the songwriting superstar whose primary goal as a teenager was to be a happily married Jewish wife and mother living in the suburbs. Mueller follows her sister Jessie — the original Tony Award-winning Carole of the Broadway production — in the task of slowly unveiling Carole’s innate genius and capacity for personal triumph, without losing the sadness and longing that permanently resides in the soul of the once 16-year-old Carole Klein from Brooklyn. Segueing from her wrenching first act closing, “One Fine Day,” Mueller’s Carol actually expands vocally in the second act, displayed when she sings her Tapestry hits, “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got A Friend” (performed as a farewell to 1650 Broadway), a powerhouse “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and the sumptuous show finale, “Beautiful.”
Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 5 p.m.; through July 17. (800) 982-2787 or www.hollywoodpantages.com . Running time: two hours and 50 minutes with one intermission.