Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' makes the Earth move at the Straz

TAMPA — Nostalgia is a powerful draw. You would expect a musical about one of the baby boomers' most beloved singer-songwriters to fill the house, as Beautiful: The Carol King Musical did Tuesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

The story is about much more than King, of course, known to younger boomers for her breakout album Tapestry, still one of the top sellers of all time. The book by Douglas McGrath and Broadway production directed by Mark Bruni is mostly a prequel to her stardom, an inspirational tale for a generation that believes one door closing means another will soon open. Like nearly all historical drama, this one cuts a few corners (characters are introduced and phase out in ways that enhance the story line) and softens edges, perhaps to avoid legal entanglements with the living.

But Beautiful is mostly the real deal. Take that from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Hall of Fame songwriters who are major players in this story. (See my recent interview with Mann and Weil at tbtim.es/zye.) And that realism, which complements the blossoming of a shy Jewish girl from Brooklyn, drives this pleasing show that opened on Broadway in 2014 and should have an extended life on tour.

It must have been a tough musical to pull together. For starters, the creators knew they would have to please fans of the 1950s and 1960s music. Beautiful weaves in a medley of period tunes from King's earliest days at Aldon Music (she started there in 1959 at age 16), with hits like Bobby Darin's Splish Splash, a spot-on Neil Sedaka (John Michael Dias) doing Oh! Carol, and Poison Ivy, popularized by the Coasters. A shifting set quickly transitions from King's home with her mother, Genie Klein (Suzanne Grodner), to the Aldon offices, where the real action is.

King meets songwriter Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) early on, the event that would launch her career and result in an eight-year marriage. In a bit of foreshadowing, she replies to his compliment about having a beautiful smile with, "Do I? I can't see it from in here."

King's music and Goffin's lyrics create an amazing string of Top 40 hits. In 1961, the Drifters enjoyed hits by Goffin and King such as Some Kind of Wonderful, and Bobby Vee cracked the charts with Take Good Care of My Baby. The musical serves generous, if abridged, helpings of other hits by the couple, including Will You Love Me Tomorrow? (the Shirelles, 1960); The Loco-Motion (1962) performed by their babysitter, who went by the name Little Eva (Ashley Blanchet); and Up on the Roof (the Drifters, 1962).

Their evolution, under the watchful eye and sometimes manipulative hand of producer Don Kirshner (played to a razor's edge by Curt Bouril) is intertwined by the simultaneous growth of Mann and Weil, who met at the studios and became best friends and arch competitors with King and Goffin.

Here the history gets so rich you don't even care if the focus shifts from King and Goffin to the other couple, who since became Hall of Fame songwriters with at least 50 hit songs and scores of awards. A sense of discovery, whether in the birth of Mann and Weil's You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' or King's own It's Too Late, Natural Woman or You've Got a Friend, permeates the production. For die-hard fans of that generation, that should be enough.

It doesn't at all hurt that Ben Fankhauser turns in a sympathetic portrayal of the self-deprecating wunderkind as Mann and Becky Gulsvig comes close to stealing the show as the plucky and level-headed Weil. Tobin, as the brilliant but unsteady (and unfaithful) Goffin also earns his money.

But none of these roles would matter if not for the performance of Abby Mueller as King. This is a standout performance in a show that, thankfully, takes time out from a busy song schedule to develop her character. Mueller, whose younger sister Jessie Mueller played the same role on Broadway, hits just the right notes and shows the evolution of a behind-the-scenes writer to a star beyond her imaging. She also does a good job of masking her voice, which is stronger than King's, enough to bring out the authenticity that made her so palatable.

Another line of dialogue from early on baits the trap for its conclusion. "I'm just a normal person," King confesses. "Who wants to hear a normal person sing?"

The world did. And you will.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

The show runs through Sunday in Morsani Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $70-$165. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

Review: 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' makes the Earth move at the Straz 04/27/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2016 5:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Cridlin: Linkin Park's Chester Bennington had a wail that stood apart

    Music & Concerts

    For all the old-timers' talk about how they don't make singers like they used to, about how rock vocalists of the 21st century can't hold a candle to the frontmen of yesteryear, here's a fact no hater could deny:

    Chester Bennington could flat-out wail.

    Chester Bennington of Linkin Park  performs at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for the 2014 Carnivores Tour. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Ready to go it alone? Tips for easing into solo travel

    Travel

    Since 2012, Kristin Addis has been traveling the world. More often than not, she's solo.

    Travel author Kristin Addis takes soloness to another level at Dead Horse State Park in Utah. Before you book an international trip, try starting small to test the waters.
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 21

    Events

    Taking Back Sunday: The emo heroes will be joined by Every Time I Die and Modern Chemistry. 6:30 p.m., Jannus Live, 200 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $26.50. (727) 565-0550. Afterward, guitarist and co-lead vocalist John Nolan performs a DJ set at 10 p.m., The Bends, 919 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Free.

    Taking Back Sunday, performing in St. Petersburg this weekend. Credit: Reybee, Inc.
  4. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 16: An evening of wine and song transcends all language barriers for these travelers

    Travel

    Day 16: Castrojeriz to Villarmentero de Campos: 35 km, 10.5 hours. Total for Days 1-16 = 360 km (224 miles)

  5. Artist exchange creates Tampa-Havana friendships

    Visual Arts

    SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Bad weather rocked the Southwest Airlines flight from Havana to Tampa.

    Marian Valdes of Havana, Cuba, who is a resident artist through the Tempus Projects artist exchange program, stands for a portrait at the non-profit art space in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, July 17, 2017. Valdes has an upcoming exhibit titled “Addicted Involution.”