Beautiful: The Carole King Musical Review

“Life is Beautiful: A Mother’s Day Review” | Beautiful: The Carole King Musical Review | Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, Orlando, FL | May 3, 2016

by • May 8, 2016

We begin our story in the ever-churning machine that is Times Square in New York City. My mother, grandmother (dad’s side), and I are staying in the Hilton that towers over NYC’s biggest tourist district. In our four day stay, we see two brilliant and vastly different Broadway productions: Kinky Boots and The Curious Incident of  the Dog in the Night-Time. We do see the marquee for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, try our hardest to acquire last minute tickets and failed in doing so. But my mother and I now have a goal–unfortunately, my grandmother lives in Michigan (love you, Sandy!).

It is salient to mention that my admiration for both Carole King’s music and the theater come from these two women. Approximately six months prior to our trip, Sandy gifted me a stack of her old LPs, as she knows I collect the ancient musical medium. One of these was Tapestry. King’s 1971 landmark album is one of those records that you know, even if you don’t know. Within the vast world of today’s music, it sounds so simple. But the songs are filled with such genuine emotion, everything is secondary to King’s vocals, that they stand as timeless monuments of heartache. And in Beautiful, we are given the opportunity to see the construction of this art through King’s own experiences.

As my mother and I walk into Dr. Phillips, a wave of nostalgia passes over me. Dressing up and seeing live theater has become somewhat of a tradition for us. As a child, she would drag my father and me to these off-Broadway productions; I didn’t really get it for the first few years. But today, I feel indescribable pride at being able to take my mom, the person who I owe my love of culture to, to a musical she’s been waiting over a year to see.

Beautiful itself is a different experience than I was expecting. Other than the preface of King (played by Abby Mueller) singing “So Far Away,” Act I showcased very few songs that King is known for singing. Instead, we see a teenage Carole Klein and her husband Gerry Goffin (played by Liam Tobin) working as a songwriter team for Don “The Man With the Golden Ear” Kirshner’s publishing company, Aldon Music. The two are in a constant hit-making competition with fellow Aldon songwriters Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser), writing smashes for The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva, The Righteous Brothers, and Janelle.

During these scenes, the stage shifts from King and Goffin or Weil and Mann writing and singing–often times while frustrated or saddened–in their small offices and homes, to huge productions of the performing artists filming a television spot or playing directly to the audience, as if we were witnessing their concerts first hand. The mood shifts from the intimate to lavish. Work clothes become bright sequins suits, a genius costume design choice. I’m hammering this home because the juxtaposition of these scenes and the flawless transitions between them were definitely my favorite part of the night. That, and seeing my mother sing every word and ecstatically declare, “This is one of your grandmother’s (her side) favorite songs.”

Going into Act II however, she was a little disappointed. She expanded that Mueller’s voice wasn’t as powerful as the real Carole King. She would learn that is because the character of Carole onstage hadn’t truly become Carole King herself. In Act II, her marriage implodes because Goffin is chasing this extravagant lifestyle, unfulfilled by the family the two had built in the suburbs. Very much defeated, she visits Los Angeles with her children and begins writing heartbreaking songs. Once King is back in New York, she expresses her frustration to Weil and Mann that these new tunes just don’t seem to fit anyone’s catalog. On a whim, she plays “It’s Too Late” for an almost empty bar.

The rest of the musical is a triumphant ascension to fame. She becomes the resilient Carole King that the entire world falls in love with. As the curtain closes we are reminded to “get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart.” This line most reminds me of my mother. More than anything else, she has taught me to overcome with an optimistic attitude, because life is Beautiful.  

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical Review by Matthew Weller, edited by Tammy Weller.


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