“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is one of the jewels of Broadway biographies crammed with hit songs. The title says it all. Beautiful, indeed.
Like “Jersey Boys,” the musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Beautiful” is bountiful with nuggets of revelation and nibbles about the composer of a kegload of pop songs fueling the soundtrack of a specific era.
Like “Ain’t So Proud,” the mega-hit loaded musical cementing and celebrating the astonishing career of The Temptations, “Beautiful” is one of Broadway’s savvy exploration and expedition of a songwriter who had the will and smarts to come from the ranks of creator to the spotlight of a performer.
And Sara Sheperd, as the queen who is King in this national touring company of “Beautiful,” celebrates the riches of the King’s cache of hot pops and its cycle of growth and appeal that not only made King famous and rich, but also brought glory and shimmer to the careers of many performers over a span of five decades.
The show, closing today (final performances at 1 and 6:30 p.m.) at Blaisdell Concert Hall, is an inspirational saga of the journey of an unknown composer who was able to cross the planks of uncertainty to make a name and enjoy her own fame as a prolific tunesmith who deserved to win back ownership of her compositions.
I apologize for the lateness of this review; I had minor health issues when “Beautiful” opened last Tuesday, and last night (Saturday, April 23) happened to be my ticket choice night before the finale. Advice: if you have time, and can secure some tickets, go for it!
“Beautiful” is the launch of a first-time, four-musicals season that comprise a Broadway in Hawaii package this year. Later titles are “Cats,” “Hamilton” and “Jersey Boys.”
The play begins with King at home at her keyboard, prepping for her career-high concert onstage at Carnegie Hall, and ends with that triumphant performance fueled by her 1971 album, “Tapestry.” Talk about a dream come true.
Indeed, the King tapestry of tunes – then and now – defines the soundtrack of many lives. A Brooklynite, King juggled the struggles of becoming a female composer and young wife and mother to a successful hit-maker whose marriage was a victim of her sheer success. Sheperd embodies the spirit of a composer-turned-singer, visually (the tousled long hair) and vocally (a voice that makes you feel the earth move).
Her early collaborator, in songwriting and romance, was Gerry Goffin (James D. Gish, a cad with charisma), who shared ambitions and dreams of writing chart hits for a bevy of soloists and groups who would gain success, thanks to the King-Goffin well of tunes.
King and Goffin meet and compete with another duo of tunesmiths, Barry Mann (a comedic Ryan Fansworth, perfectly enacting a career hypochondriac) and Cynthia Weil (an in-control Sara King, as a fashionista and buddy in partnering), who became lifetime allies, during good and bad times.
The pleasure with “Beautiful” is the stroll down memory lane, reliving the memories of groundbreaking careers.
And because the leading characters are primarily singers, not dancers, the choreographic wonders – necessary in this kind of bio-musical — are provided by some of the delightful hitmakers of the past, like The Drifters (Torrey Linder, Jacquez Linder-Long, Julian Malone and Ben Toomer), who glide and dance through audience faves like “Up on the Roof” and “On Broadway.”
Then there’s The Shirelles (Rosharra Francis, Jamary A. Gill, Danielle Herber and Nazarria Workman) enacting “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” with empowering sass.
It helps to have a little knowledge of historical facts. The mecca of pop music invention was the Brill Building, located at 1650 Broadway, known as the “factory” where composers (King and Goffin included) assembled to create hit songs like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” for the Righetous Brothers, “Locomotion” for Little Eva, Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby,” Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Neil Sedaka’s “Oh Carol,” and The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day” (though the musical credits Janelle Woods, played by Rosharra Francis, as the deliverer of this title — it’s an error, because she never recorded it) and Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp.”
If you were astute back in the day, you’ll remember music “names” like Don Kirshner and Lou Adler, who were moguls in King’s prolific career.
Oh yeah, there’s a Monkees tune, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” in the roster, but it’s overshadowed by King’s signatures such as “You’ve Got a Friend,” “It’s Too Late,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like ) A Natural Woman.”
And remain for the curtain call; Sheperd and company do an audience sing-along, enabling you to say– after your exit — that you sang with her. …
And that’s Show Biz. …