Beautiful: the Carole King Musical is solid jukebox—and that’s okay by me

Beautiful: the Carole King Musical is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver

I’m a sucker for girl groups and pretty dresses. (As The Shirelles: DeAnne Stewart, McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Alexis Tidwell and Marla Louissaint)

There are only about fifteen minutes of plot in Beautiful: the Carole King Musical: it’s more of a themed concert than a musical play. And the rotation of hits is relentless. But the songs are fantastic and the production is as slick as can be.

The set-up is simple. We start with Carole King at the piano in Carnegie Hall. Her smash-hit solo album Tapestry has been released and her career is at its peak. Then we flash back to find out how she got there. Mostly, this involves taking a perfunctory look at her marriage to her writing partner Gerry Goffin, who put lyrics to King’s music, helping to create a string of hits that includes “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, “Take Good Care of My Baby”, and “The Loco-Motion”.

As if the King/Goffin catalogue wasn’t rich enough, those two were pals with another young song-writing team, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, so we get to hear some of their hits, too, including “Walking in the Rain” and “On Broadway”.

In Douglas McGrath’s book, there’s nothing resembling a substantial scene until the top of Act 2, when King confesses to Weil that she’s having serious problems in her marriage. Goffin struggled with mental health issues and there’s some interest in watching the extent to which King strained to accommodate him.

But nostalgia not insight is the commodity on offer here. Because I’m 66, I’m almost at the heart of the target audience for this musical. The only thing that’s keeping me from being right in the bull’s eye is that I’m not female. The songs in this show are the tunes that will be ringing through the corridors of my old folks’ home—and I’m good with that.

I got my first set of goosebumps right off the top when I heard “I Feel the Earth Move” in the overture. And director Marc Bruni’s staging is as smooth as can be. There’s a crazy moment of theatrical magic, for instance, in which The Shirelles pass behind a panel wearing street clothes and emerge on the other side a split second later in dazzling pink gowns to sing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”.

Because King and Goffin’s music was recorded by so many artists, Beautiful does a great job of showcasing the talents of its ensemble, which is strong in this touring production.

And the leads are solid, too, although their characters are simplistically written: in the book, each of them is more of a cutout than a nuanced portrait. But, in the title role, Sarah Bockel transforms credibly from teenager to adult and, singing, she nails King’s trademark nasality and hard Rs.

For me, King’s pal Cynthia Weil, who is a sophisticate and a proto-feminist, is the most interesting character, and Alison Whitehurst, who plays her here, delivers all of the archness and spin.

The day after seeing Beautiful, I’m still singing the songs and I imagine I will be for days to come. Don’t expect more and you won’t be disappointed.

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL Book by Douglas McGrath. Words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. Directed by Marc Bruni. Presented by Broadway Across Canada. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Tuesday, November 13.  Continues until November 18. Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Comments

  1. A perfect, succint review of a very enjoyable evening. The cast were so tight and we loved every moment. Great entertainment and a fantastic reminder of how talented Carol King is.

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