Beautiful: The Carole King Musical gets to the heart of what I love the most about musical theatre – it takes you on a character’s journey and combines acting, music, dance, and theatrical magic to tell a captivating story. It tells a simple story – but it’s a moving story nonetheless and the show’s star – the incredible Sarah Bockel – is dynamite.
Beautiful is about music legend Carole King’s early life, using the hit songs she wrote on her own, as well as with Gerry Goffin. Many songs written by her close friends and colleagues Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are also included in the show. If any of the names I just mentioned don’t ring a bell, I guarantee you’ll still recognize a lot of the songs in the show, including “The Locomotion”, “One Fine Day”, and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.
The songs alone make you realize how influential King has been in the music industry. In fact, she was a real trailblazer. As a songwriter, King sold her first song at the age of 16 – an incredible feat not only considering how young she was, but the fact that she was a girl in an industry dominated by men. Her story is a real-life A Star is Born, and the show’s book writer, Douglas McGrath has wisely placed songs such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “A Natural Woman” at points within the show that hit with piercing emotional impact.
Sarah Bockel delivers the performance of a lifetime as Carole King, and the driving forces behind this are her characterization and singing. She does an amazing job developing King’s character right before our eyes – from an energetic, ambitious 16-year-old, to the old soul she evolves into. Bockel uses her physical mannerisms quite well to achieve this, and certainly her wig designed by Charles G. LaPointe and costuming by Alejo Vietti enhance the overall effect.
What I loved most about Bockel is her singing – and she definitely changes her sound throughout the show to coincide with her character development. She goes from having a “vanilla” sound in her first big number “It Might as Well Rain Until September”, and develops her vocal stylings from there. When we get to “A Natural Woman” late in the show, we have an incredible superstar of a singer, with a sound rich with emotion, musicality, and expert pop inflections and style.
Dylan S. Wallach delivers a larger-than-life portrayal of King’s love interest, Gerry Goffin, full of charm and sensational singing. As Cynthia Weil, Alison Whitehurst is one sassy gal, and offers both incredible singing and wonderful comic relief with Jacob Heimer, who plays Barry Mann.
The show is a nice education on the history of American music during the 1950s and 1960s. Thanks to the talented, energetic cast, and choreographer Josh Prince, we’re treated to some very fun numbers. Highlights include the cute “The Locomotion” featuring Alexis Tidwell, and the electrifying “On Broadway”, featuring four male ensembles playing the Drifters. Throughout the show, we also get to see “The Shirelles”, “The Righteous Brothers”, and “Neil Sedaka” among others.
What I enjoyed most about Beautiful was the story, and Bockel’s portrayal of King. This show isn’t perfect, and I imagine other critics have their issues with it. For example, the story isn’t the most sophisticated I’ve seen – it’s pretty simple. There isn’t a lot of layers to it; in fact, there’s only one additional storyline apart from King’s (revolving around Weil and Mann) and it’s a pretty easy breezy one.
The story also doesn’t flow that well in the first act. Story development happen very quickly at the beginning – and I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. The quick pace of the story development seems unnatural, but at the same time I liked the pace since there was so much ground to cover. But then soon after, it seems like we’re watching performance after performance of classic hits performed by cast members portraying famous singers. The show’s plot takes a backseat and it feels like we’re awkwardly jolted back into it at times.
But…I loved watching the fun musical numbers. And the story picks up speed again near the end of the first act. The second act is all about the story, and that’s when I found myself really getting invested in it – and eventually I was completely captivated by the plot. Although I know this isn’t the ideal way to structure a show, I feel it works for this particular show. And through it all, director Marc Bruni keeps the show going at a great pace – there’s never a moment of dullness.
I was very touched by Beautiful. I don’t care that it has a simple story, or that the plot flow isn’t perfect. The show comes across as genuine and it really moved me. And Bockel’s voice and performance is absolutely incredible. I highly recommend Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. It’s a show that will inspire you to find your own voice and shine.
Special note - on the show’s final performance (Sunday, November 18), the lead role of Carole King will be played by Kaylee Harwood, originally from Vancouver.
Broadway Across Canada’s (BAC) Beautiful – The Carole King Musical runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until November 18. Visit BAC’s website for ticket information