Theater Review: ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’

Jessie Mueller shines
January 21, 2014 Updated: January 23, 2014

NEW YORK—And the hits just keep on coming! This poignant and true story of Carole King’s rise from an aspiring songwriter to finding her own voice with Tapestry, one of the best-selling albums of all time, is a sure winner.

The story takes Carole (Jessie Mueller) from her beginnings as a teenager in Brooklyn, through a dream marriage, to a tough yet ultimately freeing divorce from her songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein).

King goes through a difficult separation, but ultimately finds herself as she leaves New York for California. The play ends as it begins with Carole King, now a confident albeit reluctant star, at the piano during a sold-out concert in Carnegie Hall.

The ensemble cast is used to sing the hits. It is almost impossible not to get caught up in the songs the couple wrote, made famous by the big name groups that the ensemble depicts, such as The Drifters (“Some Kind of Wonderful,”  “On Broadway”) and The Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”).

When Carole sang “So Far Away,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and the always powerful “Natural Woman,” there was a full standing ovation, and the house joined in with a rousing rendition of “I Feel the Earth Move” to bring this current, yet nostalgic work to a perfect close.

Though this is not a perfect production, I can foresee a Tony in the future for Jessie Mueller, the Tony award nominee who stars. Mueller’s strong, emotional soprano is a treat to the ears as she performs the legendary Carole King tunes. She comes into her own as a Broadway star with this strong and moving performance.

Jessie is joined by Jake Epstein as Gerry Goffin, her songwriting partner and philandering husband.
 
Friends of the couple are songwriter Cynthia Weil, deftly played by the vivacious Anika Larsen, and Weil’s songwriting partner and husband, Barry Mann, excellently played by Jarrod Spector. Jeb Brown plays the music publisher, Don Kirshner, as an egotistical curmudgeon.

The primary producers of Beautiful are Paul Blake and Sony/ATV Music Publishing. The creative team includes the following: book by Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni, and choreography by Josh Prince. Derek McLane designed the set, Peter Kaczorowski the lighting, and Brian Ronan the sound. Steve Sidwell wrote the orchestrations and arrangements, Jason Howland provided music supervision, and John Miller music coordination. Historically accurate, but terribly unattractive costumes are by Alejo Vietti.

The ensemble cast includes Ashley Blanchet, E. Clayton Cornelius, Josh Davis, Rebecca LaChance, Douglas Lyons, Chris Peluso, Gabrielle Reid, Arbender J. Robinson, Rashidra Scott, Sara Sheperd, and Melvin Tunstall.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 W. 43rd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit beautifulonbroadway.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Closes: Oct. 5

Nanci Callahan is the managing director and founder of the West Side Cultural Center.

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