Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Beautiful Bio

Stop for a moment and think about your life. If you were going to tell the story of it, where would you start and stop? Biopics and bioplays are always interesting to me because we get to learn more about actual people. There is a reason so many musicals have been built around the lives of real people from Fanny Brice to Gypsy Rose Lee to the Jersey Boys. I went to see the musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical with no real expectations. I know I love her music, but I actually know very little about her life.

Well - wow! Beautiful is a wonderful title because that's what this show is. They have picked the section of her life from ages 16 to 29 to share the story of the woman that wrote for everyone - staying in the background - and how she made her way out of the shadows and front and center to win all those Grammys for Tapestry. Douglas McGrath has supplied the book for the well-known songs and director Marc Bruni and Choreographer Josh Prince have used a very serviceable set to keep the passage of time moving (at times with a nod to the great Michael Bennett). 

You can not mention this musical without singing the praises of Jessie Mueller. The woman
is a star. And not only a musical theater star, but an incredible actress. I was so moved by her performance. The rawness of her voice. The realness of her acting choices. The quirkiness of the "Brooklyn Jewish girl" and her ability to downplay Ms. King as she allowed others to shine. The actress never has a diva moment in her body to appear as if "I am the star of this show". No, at times she drifts into the background mimicking the very story she is telling. I now will make sure I see everything this actress does on Broadway because this must definitely seal her status on the Great White Way.

The fact that Carole King wrote so many songs that we know (that were recorded by African American singers) shows how much she drifted into the background because it was the singer of those songs we recall and demonstrates how diverse her writing style was for all those years and how that style changed with the times. And this story shows how her life and her marriage added power to pull her front and center.

The entire cast is truly wonderful in this. Jake Epstein as lyricist/husband Gerry Goffin rides a rather rough line of good guy gone bad, turning in a memorable performance. Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector are a great pair in not only portraying real life writing team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, but as nuanced musicians and actors. You can't help but perk up each time they are on stage. I have loved Liz Larsen since I saw her in Starmites all those years ago and only wished we would have heard her sing in this as the mother, but still - she knows how to make the most of her time on stage. The entire ensemble has moments to shine which is very important in a play about one woman.

I've read reviews that wanted to see more of Ms. King's life or that this musical has too much in Act 1 of all the singing groups she wrote for, but for me - that's what Beautiful is about. Her life of writing for others and then seeing that beauty in herself. So naturally, Act 2 is where we see more and more of her singing her own work. And when she does, well let's just say Ms. Mueller inhabits the role and you can't help but smile. I smile for remembrance of music I've always loved. I smile as a writer/composer watching a specific moment in time (The 1650 Broadway Building writers) and seeing how writers survived at that point. And I smile for this real life woman who chased a dream, lived it and still speaks to us through her words and music today as evident on the recent Grammys.

To me - that is beautiful.
Carole King

Now excuse me while I download Tapestry to my iPhone & Ms. King's memoir to my kindle. 


  1. I love biographies, and musicals based on other people lives are always close to my heart. Probably if I am going to make a piece based on a biography, I would start on a non linear term.

    It was a well written piece.

    1. Non linear would work well too....and thanks, Gustavo!