It would be easy to dismiss “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical” as another pleasant, formulaic toe-tapping hum-under-your breath biomusical. To that I say, so what? Yes, it tracks her early songwriting career through her music (think “Jersey Boys”), but when you throw in “cameos” by the Shirelles, the Drifters, the Righteous Brothers, Little Eva, you have escalated formulaic to fun—even homage to one of the greatest rock and roll songwriters and singers of our time.
The play starts when Brooklyn teenager King (born Carol Klein) sells her first song to music producer Don Kirshner, and follows a troubled but artistically prolific marriage to lyricist and songwriter Gerry Goffin, with whom she produced hits like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles, “Take Good Care of My Baby” for Bobby Vee and “Up on the Roof” for the Drifters.
And every time the couple produces a hit, it comes alive on stage with glitzy shimmery Broadway musical numbers delivered by the groups who made them famous, from “Neil Sedaka” to “Janelle Woods”—a pantheon of R&B and pop stars who defined the 1960s and 1970s.
When the songs in a play constitute the sound track of your youth, it is helpful to have a cast that does them justice, and Amy Mueller as Carole King is sublime, as is Liam Tobin as Gerry and Becky Gulsvig and Ben Fankhauser, who play songwriting team (and King rivals) Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The ensemble is also stellar, and brought down the house with every hit, every nostalgic nod to the rich transitional era between doo wop, Motown and rock and roll to a more nuanced and dimensional era of music, ushered in by the British invasion and the summer of love.
The one drawback I could note in the dazzling opening night production is the fact that you really want to sing out loud to every song—really out loud—but decorum prevents one from belting out “One Fine Day” from your seat in row Q surrounded by perfect strangers. And I do not think I was alone. When the curtain went up, and the audience was on its feet clapping and shouting and yes, even singing back to the cast on stage, I saw a room full of people who did not want to leave, who were happily reveling in the music that once defined who they were. Or maybe it was a bigger love fest—maybe they were saluting the woman who brought it all to them. I am with them on that one. Thank you, Carole King—you’ve got a friend.
“Beautiful The Carole King Musical” is at the Broward Center For The Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, through May 22. Call 800/764-0700 fro more information.