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REVIEW: "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Sarah Bockel as Carole King in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."
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You wouldn’t expect a jukebox musical about the creation of pop/rock songs in the 1960s to be a show of profound intellectual depth. But it can be an enjoyable, pleasant evening of theater, if not a fully satisfying one.

The subtitle of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical isn’t quite right. Indeed, Carole King is the principal subject, but the show is also a shallow documentary about the song factory at 1650 Broadway in New York City, where teams of composers and lyricists turned out songs to be performed and recorded by other musicians.

Performers such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva and the Righteous Brothers did not write their own music. Songs were written and matched to the artists or commissioned for specific performers.

In addition to King and her song-writing partner/husband, Gerry Goffin, the show also features the tunesmith team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“On Broadway,” “We Gotta Get Out of this Place,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Blame It on the Bossa Nova,” “Walking in the Rain,” among many others). The show’s score consists of songs by these four writers with a sitcom-worthy book by Douglas McGrath.

Now at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway touring series, Beautiful skips trippingly through King’s early career—when she was known as Carol Klein from Brooklyn—as she sells her first song to none other than Don Kirshner (a lot of famous people are portrayed in the show, Neil Sedaka, for example). King’s isn’t exactly a rag-to- riches story, but like many, she has difficulty handling success and endures the vicissitudes of life.

How you accept the portrayal of well-known musicians depends on how much you have invested in the music and personalities. To me, the performers in this production don’t do imitations as much as they play characters who happen to be real people. We can credit director Marc Bruni for helping them accomplish that and for his sure-handed staging. Josh Prince’s choreography deftly recreates dance styles of the time.

The impressive Sarah Bockel plays King and does a darn fine job of it. Equally strong as a singer, actor and pianist, Bockel portrays King as the composer saw herself, that is, a “normal person,” who happens to be a prolific creator of pop/rock gems. In modest skirts and tops, Bockel’s King comes off as a bit frumpy but modest and caring for others (Alejo Vietti designed the historically accurate, sometimes quick-change costumes). We assume King approved how she is portrayed in the show.

The supporting cast does equally pleasing jobs. Andrew Brewer plays the disturbed Gerry Goffin. Sarah Goeke and Jacob Heimer are Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. James Clow plays Don Kirshner as a benevolent encourager of talent. Suzanne Grodner is delightfully authentic as Genie Klein, Carole’s mother. The ensemble is strong in many, varying roles.

Derek McLane’s scenic design and Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design are in almost constant motion and highly effective. Scenes in this show last about as long as the songs of the time, that is, about three minutes, so the smooth, quick transitions keep the production moving.

The synthesized pit orchestra includes a horn section. For a touring production, the orchestra is unusually adequate, reflecting bands of the era.

King (who’s still alive, by the way) found at a young age that she had a knack for and love of writing songs. She never aspired to be a celebrity (and this is made clear in the show).

But, in 2015, King was a Kennedy Center Honoree. Beautiful is a light, but quality, tribute to her career and her times, and this production represents them well.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 7:30pm to Sunday, October 1st, 2017 7:00pm
OKC Broadway
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, 201 N. Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK 73101
405-297-2264
Prices from: $43.00

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About the Author

Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for several Oklahoma City publications.  He has...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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