Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Also see Mark's review of Bent
While some would consider this show a juke box musical, in which a series of songs are strung along with a thin thread of a storyline, it is much more than that. It is the life of Carole King (Sarah Bockel), composer, performer, and recording artist, beginning with her upbringing by a single divorced parent, (Suzanne Grodner) to when she got her start at age 16 writing songs for famed record producer Don Kirshner (James Clow).
Beautiful follows King's life, as she meets her writing partner Gerry Goffin (Andrew Brewer), becomes pregnant and subsequent marries him, followed by his various infidelities, their divorce and his mental collapse. It also delves into her battling nearly crippling stage fright brought on by feelings of inferiority in order to become one of the top performing artists of our time.
Along the way, Carole and Gerry meet Cynthia Weil (Sarah Goeke) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer) at Kirshner's "hit factory" and the friendly competition drives both teams to produce some of the most memorable hits of the 1950s and '60s.
There are many reasons why this show will be a sold out affair. The first is Chicago native Sarah Bockel as Carole, who served as understudy for a number of Beautiful tours and who doesn't simply act as Carole King but becomes the songstress right in front of our eyes with the look and the voice as well as the mannerisms. Suzanne Grodner is the atypical Jewish mother whose stage presence is a guaranteed comic relief.
Andrew Brewer is sharply cast as Gerry Goffin; his rugged good looks and great singing voice make him totally convincing. There is a wonderful banter that develops between James Clow as Don Kirshner and Carole as he guides her along with encouragement. Lastly, Sarah Goeke playing Cynthia Weil and Jacob Heimer playing Barry Mann are a delight as the partners/lovers who do everything in their power to avoid getting married, with hilarious results.
With the emphasis being of course on the music and the groups that etched the songs into America's consciousness, much must be said of the ensemble players who form the various singers and back-ups. These include Dimitri Joseph Moise, Nathan Andrew Riley, Michael Stiggers, Jr., Kristopher Stanley Ward, Ben Biggers, Ashley De La Rosa, Kaylee Harwood, James Michael Lambert, Elise Vannerson, Willie Hill, Alia Hodge, McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Traci Elaine Lee, Marla Louissaint, Alexis Tidwell, John Michael Dias, Nathan Scherich, and Alison Whitehurst, who combine to portray The Drifters, The Shirelles, Janelle Woods, Little Eva, The Righteous Brothers, the "One Fine Day" backup singers, Marilyn Wald, "Uptown" singer and Lou Adler.
Each hit song performance is reminiscent of the road shows that were so popular in the fifties, where singers would tour the country en masse to promote their charted songs. This group nails it.
Special mention must also be made of the set design by Derek McLane that flawlessly shifts from the Klein living room to the Kirshner hit factory (including the offices of Carole and Gerry as well as Cynthia and Barry) to various performing venues including The Bitter End and Carnegie Hall (with backstage green room included) to even a lodge in Vermont and a hospital room.
Costuming by Alejo Vietti is period accurate (especially for the elaborately staged musical numbers) and adds greatly to the feel of the show. The sound design by Brian Ronan utilizes the Connor Palace system to its fullest and, when combined with Peter Kaczorowski's lighting, makes for a great theatrical experience. The twelve-piece orchestra (made up mostly of local talent) fills the Connor Palace with wall to wall sound that envelopes the entire audience. Lastly, the show is superbly directed by Marc Bruni.
Just as we play the same record album over and over, Beautiful is the kind of show you will want to see time and time again, especially with this stellar cast. It is guaranteed to "put a smile on your face."
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, through June 17, 2018, part of the Huntington Bank Featured Performance Series, at the Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, 615 Euclid Ave, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.playhousesquare.org, by phone by calling (216) 241-6000 or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Ticket Office located in the outer lobby of the Key Bank State Theatre. For more information on the tour, visit beautifulonbroadway.com/tour/.