A striking lesson in perseverance, survival and self-esteem concerning one of pop music’s legendary singer-songwriters, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical warmly and nostalgically satisfies with entertaining, crowd-pleasing familiarity.
The finale of the Victoria Theatre Association’s 2017-2018 Premier Health Broadway Series continuing through Sunday, May 27 at the Schuster Center, Beautiful, sleekly directed by Marc Bruni with crisp period choreography by Josh Prince, showcases King from her early songwriting days in 1959 to her career breakthrough writing 1971’s best-selling album Tapestry, which received four Grammys including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. Librettist Douglas McGrath smoothly juggles King’s pioneer composing against the backdrop of her rocky marriage to Gerry Goffin, her equally talented collaborator who battled mental illness and had difficulty being grounded in marriage life. King’s ability to ultimately use the pain of her relationship as fodder for her incredibly relatable Tapestry tunes is a testament to her artistic genius, which was also greatly admired by her close friends and fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.
Sarah Bockel marvelously inhabits King’s down-to-earth charm and distinct vocal phrasing, especially her interpretations of classics such as So Far Away, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, It’s Too Late, You’ve Got a Friend, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, and the bouncy, inspirational, gospel-tinged title tune. McGrath wholesomely fashions King without imperfection, a considerable flaw, but it’s easy to see why she was so loved and respected by her peers nonetheless thanks to Bockel’s endearing magnetism. The handsomely brooding Andrew Brewer lends great support as the conflicted Goffin, constantly craving more as musical trends change throughout the 1960s. The sardonic Sarah Goeke and comical Jacob Heimer are wonderfully paired as Weil and Mann. James Clow (producer Don Kirshner), Suzanne Grodner (Genie Klein), McKynleih Alden Abraham (Janelle Woods), and Nathan Scherich (Nick) are very effective and purposeful in smaller roles. Many ensemble members shine as well when the focus turns to specific acts such as the Drifters, the Shirelles and the Righteous Brothers whose careers were bolstered by King, Goffin, Weil, and Mann, specifically John Michael Dias and the aforementioned Scherich’s fantastic rendition of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.
Without a doubt, King’s empowerment to believe in her potential paved the way for Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, Tracy Chapman, Sheryl Crow, Lauryn Hill, Alanis Morissette, Norah Jones, India Arie, Duffy, Adele, Sara Bareilles, and many more. Beautiful certainly resonates as a meaningful tribute to her influential legacy.
Beautiful continues Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $26-$119. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.