- The Carole King Musical
By: Jeannie Lieberman
Mueller as composer Carole King
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
credit: Joan Marcus)
near jubilation emanating from the Stephen Sondheim Theatre as its doors open
to let the revelers out is the response to the new season’s Beautiful - The
Carole King Musical, a spirited jukebox production which offers a feel good
evening of special delight to her fans and all those who just want a slick,
nostalgic, music-packed evening of familiar upbeat music unhindered by the
hubris of deep insights or messages delivered.
there’s nothing wrong with that!
Marc Bruni keeps the pace kaleidoscopic in Act I’s seventeen numbers, all
familiar hits written by Ms. King and her husband /partner Gerry Goffin (“Up on
the Roof,” “One Fine Day,” the immortal “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and
“The Locomotion, ” sung by Little Eva who really was the Goffins’ babysitter)
augmented by those of their friends/colleagues Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (“On
Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”) These are performed by a
versatile cast impersonating the Drifters, the Shirelles, the Righteous
Brothers and others from the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s.
II’s additional eight numbers (and one reprise) slow the pace a bit as a
scintilla of story intrudes. But since the show begins and ends with King’s
famous Carnegie Hall concert, earned by her generation-inspiring Grammy Award
winning album Tapestry we know, all is well, ending with an audience
sing-a-long at the finale – a common phenomenon when the audience already knows
the music and just want to be a part of the show.
isn’t that great!
Mueller, Anika Larsen, Jarrod Spector
Jake Epstein in a scene from
- The Carole King Musical
credit: Joan Marcus)
sanity returns and on closer scrutiny, all is not well. There is nary a hint of
well-known and respected book writer Douglas McGrath’s previous accomplishments
(film adaptations of Emma and Nicholas Nickleby, collaboration
with Woody Allan on Bullets Over Broadway, and the play Checkers
at the Vineyard) in this puerile and simplistic “script’ which has 16-year-old
King rush into a Brill-like building, get the ear of music producer Don
Kirshner, who immediately rolls over and endorses a rat-a-tat succession of
hits for the lucky quartet of novices’ improbably unobstructed journey towards
brings in a cliff notes version of the marital discord and disintegration of
King’s marriage to an increasingly unstable husband. (Duh! He married at 19,
now he’s mingling with the stars who record his songs, while his wife, in the
country, wants him home with the kids. How long could that last?) As a result,
she is forced to write on her own and for the first time perform her new work in
public. Propelling her into a career she never really wanted. Despite
protestations of humility and insecurity, she manages to create the iconic
‘70’s album Tapestry which includes “It’s Too Late,” “You Make Me Feel
Like A Natural Woman” and the title song, “Beautiful.”
Mueller, who plays King, has been in the minds if not the hearts of musical
theater creators for her previous high profile but low success generating
roles: the ill-fated On A Clear Day You Can See Forever opposite Harry
Connick, Jr., which garnered her the sympathy vote (Tony and Drama Desk
nominations), Cinderella in the Delacorte’s Into the Woods,
Nice Work If You Can Get It opposite Matthew Broderick, and the
Roundabout’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And the mystery is why she hasn’t
become a bigger star.
because there is an inherent blandness to her. In this production she achieves
the dubious distinction of being less dynamic and glamorous than the icon she
is portraying. True, she is burdened with the dramatic arc of transforming from
a cocky teenage bride/composing partner to a single mother in a male dominated
field, faced with the serendipitous necessity of writing and performing her own
songs, a personal and career choice she never wanted. Indeed, the show opens and
closes with her successful Carnegie Hall concert after recording Tapestry,
the era-defining, best-selling Grammy winning album.
where is that spectacular, signature blond/gray mane of cascading locks with
which we can always identify our diva? Fair of face, pleasant of voice not
enough to carry a show. Was there a conspiracy between costume designer Alejo
Vietti, make-up designer Joe Dulude II and wig designer Charles G. LaPointe to
deprive her of that glamour? Even at the finale?
McLane’s minimalist sets, and Josh Prince’s minimalist choreography,
appropriate to a jukebox format, maintain that blandness. What brightness there
is can be attributed to the orchestrations and music arrangements of Steve
Sidwell under Jason Howland’s capable baton and Peter Kaczorowski’s light
supporting cast: Jake Epstein as Gerry, Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector as the
other songwriting team Weil and Mann, Jeb Brown as Kirschner and Liz Larsen as
King’s mother all do a fine job.
the lead producers on this show is Carole King’s daughter, and reports have
said that King, having seen an early workshop of the show, refuses to see the
final version of the musical because the breakup of her marriage was too
painful. There is more drama in that statement than onstage.
the ubiquitous Ms. King, televised of late at the White House concert/tribute
in her honor and her many recent high profile appearances elsewhere, will keep
the crowds coming, as well they should.
- The Carole King Musical (open run)
Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43rd Street, in Manhattan
tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
time: two hours and 25 minutes with an intermission