Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot of the show, which has been expertly crafted by bookwriter Douglas McGrath into a moving and humorous journey, begins in 1958 and follows Carole, born Carol Klein, from her early days trying to sell songs in the music publishing world of New York City. Using Carole King as her songwriting name, and after a chance meeting with fellow writer Gerry Goffin at the college they both attended, the story follows the ups and downs of both the professional and personal relationship the couple formed along with highlighting the competitive friendship they had with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The story is a fairly straightforward linear telling of King's life, bookended by scenes set at King's 1971 Carnegie Hall concert, that also touches upon the highs and lows in her problematic relationship with Goffin.
Most people are probably only familiar with Carole King from the songs from her Grammy winning album "Tapestry" which features the hit songs "I Feel the Earth Move," "You've Got a Friend" and "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman." But the songs King, Goffin, and Weil and Mann wrote include such chart-topping hits as "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "Up on the Roof," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Some Kind of Wonderful," "On Broadway," and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." The non-stop succession of well-known songs shows the expert songwriting abilities of these four individuals who wrote hits in a range of song styles and periods. These songs also provide wonderful performance numbers in the show.
Kennedy Caughell performed in the Broadway production as King, as a replacement and an understudy. She does an excellent job depicting the youthful, spirited and optimistic teenage songwriter as well as the older King who has to face the constant struggles of the music business, where you're only as good as your next hit song, along with her marital issues with Goffin. Her polished singing voice beautifully evokes the warmth and earthy grit of King's signature style.
As Gerry Goffin, James D. Gish has the somewhat difficult task of portraying the show's only true antagonist. Gish does a beautiful job depicting the man that falls in love with King but also the person who causes her much pain and sorrow due to how he mistreats her. Goffin was a troubled man who had many demons in his life and, while you may dislike him due to the hurt he inflicted on King, you also feel for him due to Gish's well shaded portrayal.
Kathryn Boswell's witty line delivery and James Michael Lambert's sharp comic abilities provide much of the show's humor, through the characters of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Matt Loehr does well as the charming, matter of fact song publisher and record producer Donnie Kirshner, and Kimberly Dawn Neumann provides sharp, dry line delivery and witty comments, getting big laughs as Carole's mother. Successfully playing a wide range of roles, from members of the many well-known groups that King and her friends wrote for to the supporting characters in King's life, the ensemble is incredibly hard working.
Creative elements are somewhat scaled down from both the Broadway production and first tour, but they still work beautifully. Marc Bruni's clear and concise direction, which lets the dramatic and humorous scenes play out naturally, and choreographer Josh Prince's period steps with Derek McLane's constantly moving scenic design provide seamless and fluid transitions between the many scenes and locations of the show.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical provides audiences the chance to learn more about this famous woman who faced personal setbacks while creating some of the most beloved songs of the pop and early rock eras. It's a feel good show with dozens of well-known songs and a wonderful reminder to try to find the beautiful things in life even when things don't go exactly the way you planned.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs through February 23, 2020, at ASU Gammage located, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.BeautifulOnBroadway.com.
Book: Douglas McGrath