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You Will Still Love Her Tomo-orrow
By Colleen Foster
Though the quarter-gulping machines for which they are named are pretty predictable, jukebox musicals have varied widely in their success level. For something so seemingly formulaic, these tune-recycling pieces of musical theater have more the letter-number combo predictability of, say, a rolling bingo ball cage.
Some, like Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia!--vehicles for Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons and ABBA, respectively--have thrived on Broadway and been spin-offs with healthy spin-offs, making not just national tours but movies. Others, like Hot Feet, created with hits by Earth, Wind & Fire... Exactly. You have never heard of Hot Feet.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical goes the biographical route, weaving together the impressive oeuvre of Carole King and her contemporary collaborators to portray her ascent to fame from her humble origins as Carol Klein in Brooklyn, New York. Though over a thousand artists have recorded her compositions, garnering one-hundred hit singles and six Grammys, few of us make the connection between her name and those golden oldies like “The Locomotion” and “One Fine Day.”
Watching the First National Tour of Beautiful at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was an ongoing “Whoa, she did that!?” revelation. And this, the easy-recognition nostalgia that had the senior citizens behind me tapping their feet, is what effectively and unapologetically carries the show.
Though King came from a divorced home, which wasn’t exactly common in the ‘60s, it was fairly stable. The show can’t ride the zealous momentum of being a root-for-the-underdog-from-a-rough-background story like many artist biopics, but it doesn’t need to. The songs are that sentimental trip down memory lane, and in the title role, Abby Mueller’s rich alto belt carries them from the first verse to the final chorus. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s a remarkable doppelgänger for King.) As her husband/lyricist combo Gerry Goffin, Liam Tobin has both leather-jacket charisma and notes of the inner conflict that had him immediately propose and “do the right thing” when she got pregnant but later had him stray outside the marriage.
Likewise, Becky Gulsvig and Ben Fankhauser as their friendly competitors in the songwriting biz, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, are spot-on. They are talented performers playing talented creators, and as Douglas McGrath’s script is brisk and funny at times but no in-depth acting challenge, they see it through with Marc Bruni’s direction popping out emphasis on the right comedic beats.
The underlying message in Beautiful--if you want to dig for one, which can be dubious in a jukebox musical--seems to be that feisty persistence always wins. With enough pluck, luck always comes out on your side. Carole’s mother Genie (an amusing cameo of the Jewish mother stereotype by Suzanne Grodner) decrees that if she doesn’t get this song finally sold, she has to give up and stick to studying education at Queens College--and whaddya know, twelfth time’s the charm. Gerry dutifully, lovingly fulfills her dreams of marrying and having a baby, even if not in the order she intended. In later years, there are no perfect fit artists for her songs, but guess what--Lou Adler out in Los Angeles is more than excited to produce a record where she sings them herself. When 1971’s Tapestry is released, she has fully evolved from a songstress behind the scenes of the Shirelles, Righteous Brothers, Drifters, et al, to a singer-songwriter in her own spotlight.
If you attend Beautiful hoping for something innovative, you will be disappointed. But it doesn’t need to be. The performers are so strong, the tunes so familiar, you will be won over. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” she sings at the piano, and they are. And they’ll be there in the Opera House through October 25.
#Real #PlayReview #BeautifulTheCaroleKingMusical #Broadway #KennedyCenter
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