Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Also see Susan's review of The Guard
Carole (Abby Mueller), born Carol Klein, grew up in Brooklyn with a pushy divorced mother (Suzanne Grodner) who worries that Carole should become a music teacher rather than trying to break into the music business. That doesn't stop Carole from pitching the tunes she writes to producer Don Kirshner (unctuous Curt Bouril) and finding her place at the "factory where they make music," 1650 Broadway in Times Square.
The dramatic through-line in Douglas McGrath's book focuses on Carole's connection with Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), an arrogant charmer who starts out snobbish about popular music but becomes her lyricist (and other things). Their songs include "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Some Kind of Wonderful," "One Fine Day," and "Up on the Roof." In her personal life, Carole grows from a surprisingly conventional young woman to a person literally discovering her own voice as lyricist, composer, and singer.
Interestingly, McGrath counterpoints the sometimes difficult King-Goffin relationship with their friends and rivals, lyricist Cynthia Weil (Betty Gulsvig) and composer Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser), who have remained personal and professional partners through the decades. The bulk of the score comes from the catalogs of these four writers, with bits and pieces of other songs from the era. (To complicate matters, Weil and Mann wrote "On Broadway" with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, so it appears both in this show and in the Leiber-Stoller revue Smokey Joe's Café.)
Abby Mueller gives a warm and deeply empathetic performance as Carole (interestingly, her sister Jessie Mueller won the Tony Award for the role on Broadway) and Gulsvig and Fankhauser have a delightful rapport. Tobin has the disadvantage of playing the "difficult, conflicted" character among these optimists, but he does the best he can.
Director Marc Bruni makes it all sparkly and vibrant on Derek McLane's modular set with Peter Kaczorowski kaleidoscopic lighting and Alejo Vietti's dead-on costumes. John Prince's choreography reaches its peak with the elaborate synchronized moves of the Drifters (John A. Dawson, Paris Nix, Noah J. Ricketts, and Dashaun Young).