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(National Tour)
Book by Douglas McGrath
Music and Lyrics by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

AT&T Performing Arts Center

Directed by Marc Bruni
Choreographed by Josh Prince
Scenic Design by Derek McLane
Costume Design by Alejo Vietti
Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design by Brian Ronan
Wig and Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe
Make-Up design by Joe Delude ll
Orchestrations, Vocal and Music Arrangements by Steve Sidwell
Music Supervision and Additional Music Arrangements by Jason Howland
Music Director Susan Draus

ABBY MUELLER (Carole King)
LIAM TOBIN (Gerry Goffin)
BECKY GULSVIG (Cynthia Weil)
CURT BOURIL (Don Kirshner)
SARAH BOCKEL (Genie Klein)
ANDREW BREWER (Righteous Brothers, Ensemble; u/s Gerry, Don)
JOHN MICHAEL DIAS (Righteous Brothers, Lou Adler, Ensemble)
BRITNEY COLEMAN ("Uptown" Singer, Ensemble)
ASHLEY BLANCHET (Little Eva, Ensemble)
JOSH A. DAWSON (Ensemble)
RYAN FARNSWORTH (Swing; u/s Barry)
MATT FAUCHER (Swing; u/s Gerry, Don).
ALAINA MILLS (Swing; u/s Carole, Cynthia, Genie; Dance Captain)
PARIS NIX (Ensemble)
DeLANEY WESTFALL (Marilyn Wald, Ensemble; U/S Cynthia

All photos of The Original Broadway Cast. Photos by Joan Marcus.

Reviewed Performance: 6/7/2016

Reviewed by LK Fletcher, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

You understand that in a National Tour the audience is going to know the music and get a little excited. What you don’t expect is whooping, and hollering and, yes, singing along. Often. Frequently out of tune. No one told the audience at the AT&T Performing Arts Center that this was not a Carole King reunion event- but that may be okay. I think I can speak for many and say that’s what it felt like. It felt like a reunion- and a pretty darned good one. Everyone was there- Carole King, The Drifters, The Righteous Brothers, The Shirelles, Little Eva, Neal Sedaka and to wrap it all up…. the Winspear is one of the few theaters where you can purchase a sippy cup for your adult beverage and take it into the theater.

I grew up with Carole King and although she was the same age as my mother, her music was mine. As a singer/songwriter I absolutely identified with her passion and her drive to keep writing. I just never realized how much of a difference she made to the music industry. “Beautiful” is very much an entertaining stand-alone piece in musical theater, but it is also a documentary of a gentle soul who was relentless on not leaving her songs unsung. Carole King’s music was not just her own angst played out at the keyboard, it was the musical hits of dozens of artists who created the tapestry (pun intended) of sound that shaped the 60s and 70s for a generation. “Beautiful” really captured the likeability of King, it encapsulated some beautiful arrangements of amazing music and it told a lovely story.

As jukebox musicals go, "Beautiful" manages very well. It is a fast, fun show with lots of clever set changes, familiar music and a relentless banter that sounds like it could have come from the writer of Seinfeld. Book writer Douglas McGrath is a story teller and he has taken King’s first decade with Goffin and woven their story with that of their musical competition in the Brooklyn studio where they penned hits for R&B legends like The Drifters, Neil Sedaka, the Shirelles, and Little Eva.

In typical musical format, we have our leading lady, Carole King (Abbie Mueller) and Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) and their rivals/comic relief the songwriting duo of Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) and Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig). The show frames performances by talented ensemble members playing the original performing artists, as the two songwriting teams of King/Goffin and Mann/Weil are each vying for the approval of the real-life musical publisher, Don Kirshner. (Curt Bouril) “Beautiful” flies through the 60’s and 70’s with multiple hits and wonders, great cameos and artfully begins and ends with a very believable Carole King seated at a grand piano at Carnegie Hall.

Beautiful is a stunning show visually. Grid lighting at the proscenium center stage and back stage is constantly changing with artful clever blends of color. The opening looks like an AME church with stained glass windows and rich purples and golds only to meld into a new change of blues or yellows as the show progresses. Pianos pivot and spin and glide all by themselves across the stage as do desks and other minimal pieces of furniture. The set design is efficient, cleaver and whimsical.

Director Marc Bruni uses scrims and levels, pivoting pianos, gliding desks, floating doors to create multiple levels and scenes in a basic box set. (The staging was reminiscent to me of The Producers on Broadway) Bruni also plays contrasts very well. The show is really about layers. There is the very superficial, playful and entertaining layer of banter and rapport (Genie, Barry, Cynthia) and the iconic performances of The Drifters, Little Eva, etc. Then there is the historical layer where we move rapidly in time through the chronology of this decade of the story. Then there is the relationship layer which exists almost exclusively in Carol’s monologues and a few stolen moments in scenes with Gerry. The absolute contrast works. It works because of clever fast pacing and scene changes, great definition of space and lights for actors in cameos, and a consistent focus performance by actors at each level of the piece.

Steve Sidwell and Jason Howland have added some beautiful layers as well to their vocal and musical arrangements. Fresh harmonies and lush orchestrations were tasteful and authentic. Many pieces had especially rich harmonic choral pieces off stage using an exceptional versatile and musical cast throughout the show. The energy behind much of the show was grounded in an excellent musical score, robust bright tempos and a tight rhythm section. Unfortunately, the sound was not as polished as the band. There were several times in which the vocals were hot and the band was not or when an actors’ mic started after the actor.

Abbie Mueller, much like her sister who did the original role on Broadway, has captured Carole King’s essence but more importantly she has infused it with her own. The show is all about ensemble but it rises and falls on the role of Carole King. We first meet Carole Klein in 1958 as a precocious 16-year-old Queens College freshman living with her divorced mother in Brooklyn and trying to sell her songs to Tin Pan Alley. Carole King launched her career with a community of artists but she penned her own success and yes, life does imitate art. Ms. Mueller is so believable as a musician, her vocals and playing piano seem organic and effortless. Her voice is full and easy and rich and she sells a song like she’s not selling a song. Think about that for a moment. She just invites you in to the moment.

The role of Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) transitioned well from an intense playwright/lyricist to a less than trustworthy and reliable husband. McGrath’s script does a tremendous work in capturing King’s trajectory and artistry. We get her lack of ambition for success and her obsession with the songs. We are artfully invited into the creative, discovery process but we are not invited into extended scenes of meaty dialogue to build and shape characters and relationships. Mr. Tobin’s work is excellent- and achingly transparent. He is moves from dark and brooding to tender and vulnerable. We empathize with his short comings- we share them. It would have been nice to have more time on stage to unwrap them.

Sarah Bockel as Genie Klein infused great energy into the role of Carole’s mother and took the stage like a summer storm. Genie sets the story in motion when she tells her daughter, “Girls don’t write music, they teach it.” A similar tour de force was real life music publisher Don Kirshner played by Curt Bouril. Mr. Bouril has a great sense of timing in both his physical and vocal delivery. He listens and plays well on stage.

The dynamic duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil sparkle. Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann) is the neurotic, hypochondriac songwriter to Becky Gulsvig’s brittle and high octane lyrics. Their friendly rivalry between the two song writing teams feeds Fankhauser – who is a bright light in every scene. He has a script full of zingers and he delivers them all lethally. Gulsvig is equally talented and is a quick and clever performer. Her vocals are not a big part of the role, which is a shame, because the woman can sing. Speaking of singing - “Beautiful” is about many things, including beautiful voices. The Drifter and The Righteous Brothers ensemble players were stellar. Powerful, lyric voices really showcased these pieces we are used to hearing crooned. The choreography (Josh Prince) which was fresh and clean, the great musical arrangements really showcased some less than typical theatrical vocals. John Michael Dias was a powerhouse in his cameos as Neil Sedaka. The Shirelles were gorgeous and elegant in their satin gowns.

Costumer Alejo Vietti really achieved an exceptional balance of iconic 60s-70s costumes for the doo wop groups i.e. matching polo shirts with lavender stripes for The Drifters and then a frumpy twin set and A-line skirt for Carole Klein. The pieces were understated, they were believable and they didn’t overshadow the show. Carole had to go through multiple scene changes – many with a wig change that was incredibly fast. Wig and Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe was excellent. The designs were tasteful and natural looking and they created such a believability factor for creating a likeness to historical characters we need to recognize onstage.

“Beautiful-The Carole King Musical” is beautiful. It is fun, it is refreshing. It is a great testimony to attitude and perseverance.

Carole King said it best in her song “Beautiful”:

You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You're gonna find, yes, you will
That you're beautiful as you feel.

After I saw the show I came home-late- got in bed and fell asleep after listening to “Tapestry”. The whole album. Thanks Carole King for your music, and thanks for the musical.

You are beautiful.

Presented by Central Market
AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Ticket Prices range from $30-$175
Seating is limited
BOX OFFICE 214.880.0202