By Manning Harris
“Beautiful—The Carole King Musical” is on tour at the Fox Theatre through May 29, and judging from the almost sold-out crowd on opening night it could easily play another week (but it won’t).
It’s hard to believe that it’s been roughly four decades since Carole King tapped into the Zeitgeist and mesmerized the world with her mega-selling album “Tapestry.”
“Beautiful” is her story, and make no mistake, Ms. King is the show’s star, although she is not physically present.
I must say upfront that the show’s credits read “words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King; and also Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.” Lyricist Weil and composer Mann were and are friends of Carole King, almost from the time 16-year-old Carole trekked over from Brooklyn to Manhattan to sell a song to music publisher Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril).
Carole’s mother, Genie (Suzanne Grodner) tells her daughter that to seek a career in music is folly; she should instead work for the school system. I wonder how many artists have received similar advice.
Instead, Carole, beautifully played by Abby Mueller, listens to her inner voice and proceeds to change the world, as it were.
She meets and shortly marries Gerry Goffin (Andrew Brewer), a lyricist with whom Carole collaborated in some of her greatest hits. Their lives together were a bit rocky, as Goffin appears rather unstable.
Becky Gulsvig plays Cynthia and Ben Fankhauser plays Barry; both of these actors add much to the evening. It should be noted that Ms. Mueller plays the piano herself, aided by the orchestra.
I’d like to give you more details concerning the interactions of the actors; unfortunately, my seat was so far back I could not clearly see the expressions on the actors’ faces. That makes any truly valid criticism of their acting performances very difficult. Hopefully, this situation won’t happen again.
But let’s face it—we’re there for the music, and for this show, that is more than sufficient. It’s fun to see and hear the audience’s delighted recognition of song after song: “I didn’t know she wrote that one.” And the sound system at the Fox for “Beautiful” is just fine.
There are too many great songs to list, but here’s a sampling: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “On Broadway,” “The Locomotion,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “One Fine Day,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and of course “Beautiful.” Bear in mind that Mann and Weil wrote a few of those.
It’s very interesting to learn that before the “Tapestry” period, Carole King wrote songs for other people to sing; she didn’t think she was attractive enough to sing in front of an audience. “They want people like Diana Ross. I just look normal.”
It took producer/friend Don Kirshner to tell her: “Carole: Who do you think is in your audience? These are your songs, and they need your special touch.” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that is what he said.
Carole saw the light; she sang; she played Carnegie Hall; her recordings broke records. And her music will live forever. I can attest that her fans in 2016 are telling her, “You’ve got a friend.”
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.