When Beautiful: The Carole King Musical rolled into town last night, it brought with it a powerhouse cast that had the audience dancing in the aisles at the end of the show.
The story, as you can imagine by the name of the show, concentrates on the early life and career of the great singer/songwriter Carole King who sold her first song at the age of sixteen. Most of her early song success came from her writing partnership with her then husband, Gerry Goffin. Their vast songbook ranges from “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” to “The Loco-Motion.” (Yes, entirely too many songs from the sixties and seventies to mention here – and many of them are showcased during the course of the show, called a “jukebox musical.”)
Anyone familiar with Carole King’s history knows that she’s faced many challenges. The first was Goffin’s love affairs and his mental state of mind during their marriage. But, as you will find out, she’s a strong woman who overcomes those challenges and ultimately, becomes a musical legend.
Anyone who enjoys music will revel in this play. It is smartly written – who knew there was so much humor in the show, especially from the songwriting team of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – expertly staged and skillfully acted. And the singing – let’s just say WOW!!! Not a weak voice or a bum note the entire time.
Julia Knitel, who plays Carole King, absolutely brings down the house. She has immense talent and vocal finesse. Her energy lights up every song she sings. She is the perfect Carole King.
Erika Olson (singer/songwriter Cynthia Weil) is also a powerhouse singer. She and Ben Fankhauser (songwriter Barry Mann) have chemistry and fun on stage. Fankhauser is another vocal wonder and he’s a great comedian as well. He has some of the best lines of the night.
Liam Tobin (songwriter Gerry Goffin) gives a lot of depth and insight into Goffin, who seemed to truly love King but couldn’t fight his own demons. Tobin also has a beautiful voice.
It may sound like exaggeration, but I can’t stress how strong the vocals were in this production. And the songs they sing – some of the best ever on the charts – including an amazing assortment of titles from The Drifters, performed by superbly talented look-alikes. Knitel’s rendition of “Beautiful” will leave you breathless. And don’t worry if you think one of King’s best songs has been left out. You may get a pleasant surprise before the night is over. Completely appropriate for music lovers of all ages, Carole King’s wholesome approach to the sixties and some of the trappings of stardom (specifically drug use and casual sex), and her commitment to preserving her first marriage, make for conversation starters comparing then-and-now with tweens.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a must, must see. Thank you Broadway in Richmond for bringing it to Richmond. It runs through Sunday, April 30 at Altria Theater. For showtimes and tickets, visit Broadway in Richmond.