Review: “Beautiful” dazzles at Clowes Hall over weekend

Beautiful is a musical about the life of singer-songwriter Carol King. Photo courtesy of Flickr.


The list of things I knew about Carol King when I walked into Clowes Memorial Hall to see the touring company production of “Beautiful – The Carol King Musical” was remarkably short. For an embarrassingly long amount of time, I believed that King currently starred in the Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

That’s Carol Kane.

It didn’t matter that I couldn’t name a single song King had written when I took my seat in the second balcony at Clowes. The show didn’t cut out the members of the audience who were like me, but rather invited them onstage to be a part of King’s journey with her.

Before she was Carol King, the famous singer-songwriter, she was Carol Klein, a girl from Brooklyn who had to fight her way into the male-dominated recording industry with nothing but her talent and her determination. “Beautiful” itself focuses on the early years of her career, where she was still living in New York City with her husband, Gerry Goffin.

Sarah Bockel as King opened the show with nothing but an acoustic piano cover of “So Far Away,” a King hit that I was surprised to know. The scene was raw and simple. It established that “Beautiful” was ultimately about her alone onstage with her own music.

For the rest of the show, it is rare for the audience to see King alone like she was in the beginning. She’s surrounded by her doting mother, her husband and co-writer, her boss, and her friends and competitors, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The music of the first act focuses ultimately on her chart-topping, 60s pop hits – a much different tone from how the show opened.

Even when King’s marriage cracked and she and Goffin called it quits, the contrast between their failing personal life and the upbeat, successful songs they produced together was enough to hint that this entire era of King’s life was never really hers to begin with.

It was always someone else’s idea, someone else’s collaboration, or someone else’s choice that led King to the top of the charts. She wrote the music for her husband’s lyrics since she was 16. She wrote the songs her boss believed would sell. It wasn’t until the final few scenes of the show where King’s finally convinced to sing one of her solo songs in public where we get the same feeling of intimacy and maturity as we did in the opening.

The story of Beautiful was never to flaunt King’s success or her Grammy wins because, as the character states several times in the show, that was never a priority. She loved music but wanted to get married, have children and live a quiet life in the suburbs. The show itself is more about the decision she eventually makes to move to Los Angeles and pursue a music career because that choice? That choice was always and ultimately her own.


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