BY DR. KATE ROARK
There’s a line near the beginning of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, about the best Broadway songs being like short plays. Of course, Carole King didn’t write her songs for Broadway, but this line resonates with what’s so special about her music — how her songs draw us into an intimate short story, and take us on a raw and emotional journey.
Songs like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “So Far Away,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “One Fine Day,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and “You’ve Got a Friend,” songs I’ve been listening to my whole life, feel like old friends, and the joy of Beautiful is experiencing these songs anew with the magic and sparkle only a musical can bring.
Carole King is a true music legend, and this biographical musical featuring so many of her classic hits, many of which I didn’t realize she had written, like “The Locomotion.” Beautiful is the story of King’s career, from a teenager breaking into songwriting in the 1950s to her phenomenally successful album Tapestry in the ’70s.
It’s also a love story, as Carole co-wrote most of these early hits with her first husband, the lyricist Gerry Goffin. And its also a story about friendship and the competition between friends that spurs both on to greater heights. These friends are Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the songwriting husband and wife team that wrote “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Walking in the Rain,” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,”– songs which provide a delightful counterpoint to the love/work relationship of King and Goffin, as well as their songs.
Kennedy Caughell captures the innocence and insecurity of the young Carole King as well as the power and sensuality of King’s vocals, and if she’s not actually playing the piano on stage she does a flawless job of acting like she is!
James Gish, as Carole’s husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin, has a puckish charm reminiscent of a young Conan O’Brien and he plays the often depressed and philandering Goffin with depth and nuance.
Katheryne Boswell as Cynthia Weil has a surprisingly powerhouse voice packed in her willowy frame, and James Michael Lambert as Barry Mann is low-key adorable as her hypochondriac partner in love and music. Their duets “He’s Sure The Boy I Love,” and “Walking in the Rain,” will make you wish for a sequel spin-off musical focused on Weil and Mann’s relationship and hits.
The four leads were delightful, yet some of the best moments came from the ensemble performing as The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva, Janelle, and The Righteous Brothers. The choreography of these group numbers felt both fresh and authentic to the original style of these performers, and the ensemble is having so much fun that you can’t help but be swept up in the giddy, nostalgic fun of it all. Many of these group numbers also feature quick costume changes so fast, some happening on stage, that will leave you wondering how they did it!
This musical will also make you wonder just how much of it is true, and what details are left out – and luckily we can simply grab a copy of her autobiography, A Natural Woman (2012) to find those answers. But you already know the songs are beautiful, and that may be all you need to know!
BEAUTIFUL: The Carole King Musical will play at the Peace Center through Jan. 5, 2020. Tickets range from $35 to $100 and may be purchased by calling (864) 467-3000 or in person at the Peace Center Box Office or online at peacecenter.org.