BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL
Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and Music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Director – Marc Bruni
Musical Director—Susan Draus
Scenic Designer – Derek McLane
Lighting Designer—Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Designer – Brian Ronan
Costume Designer – Alejo Vietti
Wig and Hair Designer—Charles G. LaPointe
Make-Up Designer—Joe Dulude II
CAST (in reviewed performance)
Carole King—Sarah Bockel
Genie Klein—Suzanne Grodner
Neil Sedaka—John Michael Dias
Don Kirshner—James Clow
Gerry Goffin—Andrew Brewer
The Drifters—Josh A. Dawson, Jay McKenzie, Avery Smith, Kristopher Stanley Ward,
Cynthia Weil—Sarah Goeke
Barry Mann-Jacob Heimer
The Shirelles—LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, Traci Elaine Lee, Ximone Rose, Alexis Tidwell
Janelle Woods—LaQuet Sharnell Pringle
Little Eva—Alexis Tidwell
The Righteous Brothers—John Michael Dias, Nathan Scherich
‘One Fine Day’ Back-Up Singers—Traci Elaine Lee, Ximone Rose, Alexis Tidwell
Marilyn Wald—Aashley Morgan
‘Uptown Singer’—Traci Elaine Lee
Lou Adler—John Michael Dias
Reviewed Performance: 9/12/2017
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Premiering on Broadway in 2014, two-time Tony Award winner in 2014, three-time Drama Desk Award Winner, and winner of the 2015 Best Musical Theatre Album Grammy, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is the story of singer-songwriter Carole King. Her music has been the soundtrack to the lives of many. Hits like “It’s Too Late,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” and “Beautiful” are perennial favorites of karaoke clubs, and of audiophiles who favor the sounds of soft rock of the 1970’s. Put that together with a dazzling and dramatic Broadway musical, and of course you have a fantastic on-stage experience for music-lovers and theatre-goers. To be perfectly honest, I was only familiar with certain aspects of Ms. Kings’ life. I knew she had a songwriting partnership with Gerry Goffin, and I knew she had penned a few hits in the 1960’s for other artists before moving from being behind the sheet music to recording her album “Tapestry” in 1971.
I first was introduced to the music of Carole King while growing up. My Dad was a huge influence on my music appreciation, tastes, and musical history lessons. Occasionally, we would discuss the artists, and trivia behind the songs and their “stories.” It wasn’t until I saw the moniker of “Goffin and King” before I started to ask questions. “Was that Carole King of “It’s Too Late?” Well, that opened up a whole new topic of conversation and increased my base of musical knowledge –allowing me to dive deeper into some of the greatest music of the 1970’s. From this production, I learned about the relationship between King and Don KIshner (The Man with the Golden Ear) who was responsible for The Monkees, and for the popular 1970’s late night concert series, “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.”
Not only did I learn about the musical career and personal successes and struggles of Carole King, but, I became privy to so much inside information that suddenly enhanced my musical knowledge (for instance: Did you know that Goffin wrote “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and Kirshner gave it to The Monkees? Goffin was disgusted that he had written for television for a “manufactured band,” but the joke was on him-Pleasant Valley Sunday made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1967. Did you know that Neil Sedaka wrote “Oh, Carol!” for then high school girlfriend, Carol Klein (King)? Did you know that Carole King was once so plagued by stage-fright that she could barely sing in front of people at all? It was this collection of enlightening trivia, and music that made this experience at Bass Hall such a fantastic experience. And, I bet you (maybe, like myself) thought that Carole King was this confident, and immensely talented hippie earth-mother type that women all over looked up to during a time when women were coming alive as their own in the music industry. Carole’s most famous album, “Tapestry” held the record for most weeks at No. 1 by a female artist for more than 20 years. Now that you have an ample background of one of the greatest female artists of the 1970’s, on to the review from Tuesday night-“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: a part of the Broadway at the Bass Series in Fort Worth.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical begins with Carole, in 1971 during her concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Immediately, Carole begins to recount her story starting in 1958, as an aspiring songwriter at age 16. Presented as a jukebox musical, many of Carole’s hits are presented as they were written, and performed from various artists from the 1960’s (The Shirelles, The Monkees, and The Righteous Brothers-to name a few.) Audiences are able to be a part of the story, as audiences at Carnegie Hall, and as insiders in the studio as her musical journey unfolds right before your eyes. Not only do audiences experience the journey of Goffin and King, but, we are also introduced to (at first) a friendly rivalry with fellow songwriters, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, that develops into a lifelong friendship and collaboration with King. I would venture to say that you might also be surprised to know some of the song credits of Mann and Weil-including “On Broadway,” “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” (later recorded by The Animals) and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.”
Director Marc Bruni brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and costumes that enhanced the story being told by these characters from rock and roll history. His overall vision and concept was very impressive. The production was presented in such a professional manner, it really had that “Broadway” feel. The actors and the musicians were so fully charged with energy it really was an electrifying experience at the theater. From the moment the show began, members of the audience were bopping along with the music, and some even singing along (that would be me…). Bruni certainly delivers a stunning, and dazzling spectacle, to the backdrop of beautiful, tight harmonies and impressive choreography.
Set Designer Derek McLane successfully transformed the grand proscenium stage into multiple locations. In a story with so many locations, each one was designed executed in a quick, yet, detailed manner. The transitions from location to location were seamless. I was awe-struck by the way the piano and microphones would glide on and off with no hesitation. There was never a moment that I was taken out of the moment of the story. I was impressed with McLane’s attention to detail in each location and especially his use of the themes of a piano and a plethora of audio speakers (worked into every scene in one way or another) that really brought the theme of the music back to the imaginations and consciousness of the audiences. It’s the little details like that really pull me into the world of the story. It is apparent to me that a lot of time, care, and attention to detail was incorporated from both, the scenic designer.
Lighting was designed by Peter Kaczorowski. Kaczorowski did a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate for each scene and mood. One element that was absolutely awe-inspiring was seeing silhouettes of the musicians, specifically the members of The Drifter’s as they performed “On Broadway” with the backsplash of vibrant colored lights. It truly was visually pleasing. It really amazes me how something as simple as a color can delineate and represent the entire mood and emotion of a scene. I felt that it was a very powerful use of visual imagery. Through the performance, Kaczorowski’s cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. I especially enjoyed how the lighting complimented the scenic design, giving the impression of the many different locations-such as the concert hall at Carnegie, and the various television studios/music studios where the main portion of the action took place. It is apparent that Kaczorowsi worked in cooperation with scenic designer, McLane, and was able to create a very unique and dynamic view of the multiple locations. From the dimly lit studios of King’s humble beginnings to the ultimate performance at Carnegie Hall, Kaczorowski really devoted a lot of time, effort and talent in the lighting of this production.
Alejo Vietti designed costumes that were not only appropriate to the late 50’s and early 60’s, but had a fine attention to detail. For each performance there was a unique and eye-catching costume. It was a nice touch to see some sparkle and dazzle to some of the costumes. There was a huge cast of characters, played by a small ensemble of actors. For each character, everyone in the ensemble had extremely different costumes, and there was never a point in this production when I felt that costumes were similar to one another. Costume design was surely a huge undertaking in this production, with the massive number of characters in the story. Each ensemble player wore a unique costume (for each role) adding to their importance to the story. All this added authenticity to their roles. Costumes were visually appealing, while also giving an accurate depiction of their character’s personality and role in the story of the Carol King. The best “gem” of costumes for me was seeing instantaneous wardrobe changes happen seamlessly and flawlessly right before my eyes. It was fantastic! It is the details like this that really have me sitting on the edge of my seat-wondering what I could expect next. It was absolutely marvelous to see The Shirelles and Little Eva transform from the plain 1960’s clothes to the sparkling and flashy costumes of female artists of the 1960’s. It was almost magical. That is the best way to describe it. Even as I sit here writing, I am afraid I cannot even vocalize what came out of my mouth last night. I am pretty sure it was something along the lines of “YAAAAH-that was freaking amazing!!”
Sarah Bockel was incredibly believable in the role of New York native, Carole King. Through facial expressions, body language, and an incredible vocal range, Bockel convincingly portrayed the aspiring songwriter (soon singer), growing up in Brooklyn. Bockel’s presence on stage was nearly constant-her enthusiasm and honesty on stage was a very true depiction of Carole King. Bockel never faltered in her delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. Even her vocal delivery (dialect) was so reminiscent of King. I can guarantee you, if you plan on attending “Beautiful,” you could close your eyes and be persuaded into believing that Carole King was in Fort Worth, and telling her own story. Ms. Bockel nailed the role. What a treat to see her in such a fantastic role. Brava, Ms. Bockel on a job and a role well-done.
Gerry Goffin was played skillfully by Andrew Brewer. Brewer was very convincing through facial expressions, dialogue delivery, and impressive voice. He had some nice moments interacting with King, and Mann and Weil (played wonderfully by Jacob Heimer and Sarah Goeke). Mr. Brewer allowed audiences to feel the pressures, the ups and the downs and the struggles and successes of working as an aspiring songwriter in the 1960’s. Mr. Brewer also portrayed the sadness of Goffin’s life, and the personal struggles he faced during his time with King (in songwriting partnership, and marriage) with great honesty and conviction.
Another standout was Suzanne Grodner in the role of Mrs. Klein (King’s Mother) who stood by her in good times and bad times. Ms. Grodner provided a fantastic amount of comic relief, and portrayed the very stereotypical, overbearing but well-meaning Jewish mother. In true maternal fashion, Mrs. Klein stuck with Carole throughout her career, providing support, and a nurturing ear. Ms. Grodner’s enthusiasm was nearly constant, and her facial expressions, and one-liners provided the appropriate dose of humor even in the most dramatic moments.
This production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the music begins, and the songs to the soundtrack of lives appear one after another, you will be fascinated and compelled to sing-along. Not only is it an excellent musical history lesson for audiences, but also, it is an excellent way to introduce King’s story to first time theatergoers. Whether you are a fan of the Goffin/King’s vast musical catalogue, or Tapestry was one of your favorites, “Beautiful” will leave you with a spectacular theatrical experience. Hurry, you have a limited time to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at Bass Hall, then, this “natural woman” hits the road to the next destination. But, no matter what, we will still love her (and the music) tomorrow.
BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL
Broadway at the Bass
Bass Performance Hall, 4th and Calhoun Streets, Fort Worth, Texas 76102
Plays through September 17, 2017.
Thursday, September 14 at 7:30 pm
Friday, September 15 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, September 16 at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, September 17 at 1:30 pm and 6:30 pm
Ticket prices range from $61.00, based on day and seating.
For more information, or to purchase tickets visit http://www.basshall.com, or call the box office at 817-212-4280, or toll free at 1-877-212-4280.