Beautiful (in some ways): The Carole King Musical

publicity photo for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Daniel Curalli and Kaylee Harwood on Cory Sincennes’s set (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

There are so many great songs in this show. And there’s so much talent on the Arts Club stage. But there’s so little story in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical that it often feels more like a concert than theatre.

Douglas McGrath’s slim book follows the legendary singer/songwriter from 1958, when she was 16 and sold her first song, to 1971 and the Carnegie Hall concert that followed the release of her smash-hit album Tapestry. The personal story is about King’s troubled marriage to her song-writing partner, lyricist Gerry Goffin, who had bipolar disorder. In this musical, as it did in life, this marriage serves up a bunch of hits, including “Take Good Care of My Baby”, “The Loco-Motion”, and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. King and Goffin’s pals, song-writing team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, are also part of the story, which allows Beautiful to share their hits too, including “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.

It’s a phenomenal song list. And it’s huge. There are 17 musical numbers in Act 1, and 11 in Act 2. Because there’s so little time left for storytelling, in the first act, the characters feel like figures in a rudimentary video game, mere types with limited functions. King’s mom Genie is a bitter divorcée. King is gifted and self-effacing. Her pal Cynthia is a wisecracker.

Interpersonal conflict is minimal and career success comes so easily that nobody needs to work very hard, which means there’s no narrative depth. When King’s marriage to Goffin falls apart in Act 2, it’s predictable, but at least there’s struggle, so the characters start to look more like human beings.

Okay. That’s what’s wrong with the material. Under Ashlie Corcoran’s direction, there’s a whole lot right with this production.

[Read more…]

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!