Rob Reviews "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"
Being a guy that is musically inclined, when I get to see a live performance that features songs that contributed to the soundtrack to my life, it is a special occasion. When I get to do it multiple times, it is even more special, and almost three years to the day after the first time I got to see it, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” has returned to Dallas at the Winspear Opera House.
Having used the phrase “the soundtrack of my life,” that pretty sums up how this production goes. Starting at the age of sixteen as King (played this go ‘round by Sarah Bockel) sells her first song as a freshman in college (she skipped two grades, you know), she meets her writing partner turned husband, Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach), and their rise to superstardom begins as songwriters for the likes of The Shirelles, The Drifters, and more while their paths weave to and from each other.
I don’t really consider this to be a “jukebox musical,” because it is the actual songs written by the actual people portrayed on-stage. This is more of a biopic on stage where the soundtrack is comprised of where they are in the story as they write their big hits alongside their co-workers/best friends/professional rivals in Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer). This story is so well written and engaging that it is OK to leave your watch in the car because you may not need it to monitor where in the story you are. One of my favorite plot devices used (the book here was done by Douglas McGrath) is when one of the couples writes a song, it in a way morphs itself into a performance by the group that would end up making it popular. I found myself lip synching all the way through this show (I didn’t want to start singing and distract others around me, and I wasn’t sure who may have been hiding produce in their bags to throw) to amazing tunes from “Up on the Roof” to “On Broadway” to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”, all of which are performed masterfully.
And speaking of masterful performance, this cast delivers very well. However, this resides on Bockel’s Shoulders, and she DELIVERS. Following Abby Mueller (who happens to be the sister of Jessie, who originated the role on Broadway) are large shoes to fill, but Bockel does not seem to feel bothered by that in any way, shape, or form. She BECOMES King on each and every level, from diction to body language enhanced by amazing costume design by Alejo Vietti. Working King’s New York accent without even coming close to parody or over-the-top status, there was an organic quality in her performance that absolutely sells her as the title character in a way that I have rarely seen. As King makes her way to Los Angeles to record her signature album “Tapestry,” which was so instrumental that I have read that it is the first album to ever be covered track-by-track on the incredible “Tapestry Revisited,” the big moment for me approached as she is convinced to do a take on her “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” against her gut feeling to put on the album. This performance gave me the same chills that it did the first time around, much less the way it feels every time I hear it, whether it is King, Aretha Franklin, or Celine Dion (who does it on “Revisited”). Prefaced by another perennial favorite of mine in “You’ve Got a Friend,” there is not a single moment for me where I was not completely immersed in everything that was going on.
This is a musical that even though there was a different vibe to it on my second viewing (not better, not worse… just different), it was just as enjoyable the second time around. Any fan or historian of music will find something to enjoy here, so make sure to catch “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” when it comes to a city near you!