Given Carole King’s prolific discography, it was inevitable there would be a musical based on her work.
But rather than go full-on Mamma Mia and make up a narrative to link the songs, playwright Douglas McGrath goes The Jersey Boys route and constructs a biography show chronicling King’s life from teenager, to her 1971 Carnegie Hall concert.
Well, sort of a biography. For while we get the facts, we don’t get a lot of depth or insight into what drives a songwriter of King’s stature. Instead, in the musical Beautiful, King is presented as being without personal flaws, noble, and as she says, “a square”. The result is a show that lacks layers and nuance.
The script is self-aware of its clunky nature as it leaps from event to event, which is even acknowledged in the script during a cheekily funny exchange where King’s boss asks about her daughter. “How old is she?” “Five.” He responds shocked “Five years old? They grow up so fast.” She responds, “No, five months. I just had her.”
While the book may be less than satisfying, sometimes bordering on a sitcom, this touring show more than makes up for it with a stellar cast, orchestra and production.
Sarah Bockel is astonishing as King, with spot-on vocals and showing versatility as an actor. She is so good as the teenage Carole that one assumes it is a different actress playing the older version. And in the final scene Bockel takes on the older King with skill, complete with her sweetly goofy exit.
Dylan S. Wallach plays King’s troubled husband Gerry Goffin, cutting a handsome figure and a lush singing voice.
The script also features the song writing duo of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, contemporaries of King and Goffin.
As Weil, Alison Whitehurst sinks her teeth and considerable talent into the role, becoming one of the most interesting characters in the story. Jacob Heimer as her hypochondriac writing partner blows the roof off the Queen Elizabeth Theatre with an unexpectedly powerful rendition of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”.
The rest of the cast play many of the bands the foursome wrote for, including The Shirelles, The Drifters, The Righteous Brothers and Little Eva. The artists are all dynamic and thrilling.
Act two gets much more involving as we move from the pop hits of King’s early career and into the events that helped shape her into an artist who would go onto create the passionate and soulful album, Tapestry.
While not a great book, if you want to go to amazing concert with stellar artists you are sure to find Beautiful, beautiful.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical continues at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver until November 18. Visit broadwayacrosscanada.ca for tickets and information.