There are a few musicals I could see over and over again and the Tony & Grammy Award-winning “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” about the early life and career of the legendary singer/songwriter is one of them. I first saw it on Broadway in 2016 and had the pleasure of seeing the North American touring production on opening night, Tuesday, at Clowes Memorial Hall at the Butler Arts Center. The hit musical runs through Sunday, Feb. 4.
With a book by Tony and Academy Award-nominee Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince, “Beautiful,” a jukebox musical, includes many instantly recognizable songs (if you grew up in the 60s and 70s) written by Gerry Goffin/Carole King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil.
McGrath’s captivating script focuses on King, a Brooklyn girl with chutzpah and passion, who fought her way into the record business as a teenager and, by the time she reached her twenties, had a happy marriage and a promising career writing hits for the biggest acts in rock ‘n’ roll. But, it wasn’t until her personal life began to fall apart that King finally managed to find her true voice. “Beautiful” recounts the true story of King’s rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and the pinnacle she reached as one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history. Along the way, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation, including that of this Baby Boomer.
Starring as King in this Broadway in Indianapolis presentation is Sarah Bockel, who understudied the role in the Broadway production. In possession of a powerful voice, charismatic stage presence and tremendous dramatic skills, Bockel made the role her own. I was absolutely mesmerized, as was an audience transfixed by her rendition of “It’s Too Late,” and the show’s title song “Beautiful” from King’s album, “Tapestry,” that catapulted her into a legendary solo career.
All the leads, including Andrew Brewer as King’s philandering husband, lyricist Gerry Coffin, Sarah Goeke, as dynamic lyricist Cynthia Weil and Jacob Heimer, as her hypochondriac composer husband Barry Mann, achieved near perfection in performances that were as appealing as convincing.
Also deserving of shouts-outs are James Clow as King’s and Coffin’s discoverer and mentor Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner as the singer-songwriter’s quintessential Jewish mother Genie.
Doing a yeoman’s job of dancing and singing were each of the superbly talented ensemble members who played The Shirelles, The Drifters and other popular performers of the era. They especially shined whenever they were executing choreographer Josh Prince pitch-perfect, period-flavored movement.
During my previous life as a local television producer-director, I had the pleasure of working with Josh Prince, when he was a young boy, on a television program I created. When I cast him, I knew he had a special talent and presence that would take him far in whatever he chose to do. Now a successful Broadway choreographer, Prince has more than validated my assessment of him.
During the current cultural zeitgeist sparked by the “#MeToo” movement, “Beautiful” is especially relevant and timely. Like King who was victimized by a cheating, lying husband, but eventually established her own identity and found her influential voice through her music, women all over the world are also standing up for themselves and speaking out and saying “Time’s up.” To say this show is inspiring is an understatement. As much as it is a powerful commentary on female empowerment, however, it is also a very instructive, entertaining history lesson on the development of pop music.
Tickets for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” are available in person at Clowes Memorial Hall, Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayinIndianapolis.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.