Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
National Tour
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of [title of show]


Julia Knitel
Photo by Joan Marcus
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical recently wowed an opening night audience at Hartford's Bushnell where the touring production continues through January 22nd. This is the moving story of a gifted singer/songwriter/pianist; it also showcases a multitude of popular hits dating back to the late 1950s. The current cast, led by appealingly talented Julia Knitel as Carole King, is top caliber.

The performance opens as poised, mature Carole, sitting at a grand piano, sings "So Far Away." Soon thereafter, we flash back to an earlier time in Brooklyn where adolescent King, living with her mother Genie Klein (Suzanne Grodner), muses more about choosing music rather than teaching as a career choice. Her mother is dubious. Carole finds her way to the Times Square building Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril) facilitates as a music/record producer. She is still in high school where she has met Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin). He is an eccentric, driven, unstable dreamer who writes brilliant tunes. Eventually, King and Goffin marry, have children, and divorce. The initial King-Goffin smash hit is "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" which Carole sings solo, and it is revisited a short while later by The Shirelles, the splendid girl group. Goffin and The Drifters follow, impressively, with "Up on the Roof."

Little Eva (Rosharra Francis) is the babysitter for Carol and Gerry and it is she, Eva, who gains fame with a light-it-up version of "The Locomotion." Meanwhile, Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) are songwriting friends who are also competitive with Carole and Gerry. Barry and Cynthia supply "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," which the Righteous Brothers (John Michael Dias and Matt Faucher) sing, and "On Broadway," performed by The Drifters. The second act includes songs such as "Chains," "Walking in the Rain," "It's Too Late," "You've Got a Friend" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." It all concludes with Carole back at the piano with "Beautiful."

Douglas McGrath wrote the book for this show and it tells an engaging story of real human beings. The musical opens chapters upon individual and collective lives. For example, Carole's relationship with her own divorced mother is layered. The sometimes comic Genie Klein wants security for her daughter and her wish is genuine. Barry Mann (a hypochondriac) is a comic type of sorts but Gerry Goffin is not. Goffin is haunted by demons which diminish prospects for happiness. He wants to be with Carole and his children but strays.

Virtually all of the actors in the production perform with zest and feel for the music, inclusive of now classic songs. They are delightfully invigorated and, when necessary, nuanced. Julia Knitel understudied her current role while she was otherwise cast in the Broadway production. She has splendid vocal range and invests Carole with youth and spirit. She seems in touch with Carole and, honoring the artist, shapes the performance into her own. It doesn't seem at all fabricated when Knitel steps forward after final bows to ask the audience to sing along with her. People of varying generations know the numbers, so baby boomers are not the only ones more than pleased to share voices.

Derek McLane's many shifting and sliding set pieces are complementary to the proceedings and Alejo Vietti's wardrobe choices are most suitable. Josh Prince's choreography is appropriate. Beautiful is directed by Marc Bruni, who does a fitting job of balancing music with story—all to the very, very good.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical continues at the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, as part of the national tour, through January 22nd, 2017. For tickets, visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900. For more information on the tour, visit beautifulonbroadway.com/tour.


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