“If Times Square and hell were the last two places on earth, the nice people would live in hell.” Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which closed last week at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles as part of its ongoing national tour, has many snappy lines like this to offer, along with plenty of recognizable tunes. It’s the type of musical where a song begins and the audience immediately starts applauding with excitement, which makes it a perfect fit for touring audiences.
In case anyone is unfamiliar, Carole King is a singer/songwriter who became famous in the 1960s when she and her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin, wrote hit songs for artists such as Aretha Franklin, The Monkees, and The Shirelles. In the 70s, she went back to her roots and began once again performing her own work. Her solo album Tapestry held the record for the most weeks spent at number one for an album by a female artist for over 20 years. Beautiful tells Carole’s story, from selling her first song at age 16 to headlining at Carnegie Hall at age 29.
Beautiful is still running on Broadway, where it opened in early 2014. Actress Jessie Mueller originated and won a Tony Award for the role of Carole on Broadway, and her sister, Abby Mueller, plays the role on tour. Abby was just lovely at the Pantages, bringing impressive vocals and a down-to-earth charm to Carole’s story. Gerry Goffin, a bit of a thankless, unlikable role here, was played by Liam Tobin, who was talented, but unable to overcome the show’s (and Carole’s) bias against the character. Becky Gulsvig and Ben Fankhauser were delightful as Carole and Gerry’s best friends and songwriting rivals, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. This is also a wonderful show for ensemble members—so many artists sang the songs included in the show, and almost every actor in the ensemble gets a moment to shine during one of these vignettes.
While I was casually familiar with King’s work, I was ultimately surprised by just how many hit tunes she was responsible for. The show’s impressive track list includes “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Who Put the Bomp,” “The Locomotion,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and, of course, the title song, “Beautiful.” Both the story and the way it’s presented are traditional and straightforward—there’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and the musical has no tricks up its sleeve.
Carole is an impressive talent with an impressive story, and I loved what a great vehicle this show is for a female actress. It was wonderful to see a musical that has a central romance, but is not defined by it—this is Carole’s show and Carole’s show only, and watching her blossom, come in to her own, discover her own talent, and learn to put herself first is quite inspirational. The Carole seen here has real depth, and you’ll come away with a new understanding of and appreciation for her music and her life.
Ultimately, Beautiful is unremarkable yet pleasant tourist fare that is well-constructed and well-performed enough for more discerning theatergoers to appreciate as well. It toes a traditional line and does not misstep, and it would particularly be an excellent choice for music lovers who are not yet musical lovers.
Beautiful is still running on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, and tickets and more information are available here. While the tour’s Los Angeles run has unfortunately concluded, it has upcoming stops planned in San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, and more—for a schedule and ticket information, click here. You can also check out the musical in London, and it has plans to visit Australia in the near future.