After a fabulous stint on the Broadway Stage, a national tour for Beautiful was cast and began its trip around the United States late last year. Jessie Mueller, the original Carole King, is not with the tour, but her sister, Abby Mueller is! Mueller, along with this extremely talented Beautiful cast, honored the life of King in a remarkably beautiful way in their San Diego performance this past week at the Civic Theatre. Through hilarious dialogue, tragic scene work, well-choreographed dances, and graceful music, this Broadway tour cast captured the legend that is Carole King.
King was planning on going to school to get an education degree, but she always had a strong love for music. Her mother, portrayed by Suzanne Grodner, was never supportive initially and utilized comedic wit to develop her character perspectives. When the opportunity presented itself by means of producer Don Kirshner, King began composing at the age of 16, but she struggled with finding the right lyrics to her music. That is, until Gerry Goffin stepped in her life. Goffin, portrayed by Liam Tobin, immediately connected with King and they would soon be married with a child (and later 2). At the age of 17, King and Goffin had their first #1 hit, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” for the Shirelles. Accompanied by musical director Susan Draus and her musicians, Mueller sang this on the piano with incredible passion that completely captured the depth of King’s complexity in her music. As the musical proceeded, it highlighted the lives of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann portrayed by Becky Gulsvig and Ben Fankhauser. This dynamic duo was King and Goffin’s main competitors who brilliantly created “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling”, and “Walking in the Rain”. What truly stood out throughout this fantastic production was King’s influence on Weil and Mann. King was composing hit after hit after hit and Weil & Mann kept pushing themselves more and more until they finally had a #1 hit.
Gerry was a disloyal husband and father to King and their two children as the marriage developed overtime. He spent countless hours away from the home and was falling in love with other women. At the same time, Mann wanted to marry Weil. She was not ready, however, which caused a major divide between the duo as well. As she dealt with these issues and divisions that were causing her emotional trauma, King still managed to compose music like “Chains”. This jazz-styled song was performed onstage with the entire Beautiful ensemble. The choreography was very period appropriate and Mueller’s acting was superb. She perfectly captured the conflicting conditions in King’s life (fighting a broken heart and writing music), especially with her gorgeous vibrato on the final note of the song.
The night Weil and Mann finally become engaged, King performed an original piece that she composed herself, “It’s Too Late” in a bar. Mueller’s voice finally opened up and demonstrated the undeniable brilliance of King’s singing and song writing capabilities. Lyrics “And it’s too late, baby now, it’s too late/ Though we really did try to make/ Somethin’ inside has died, and I can’t hide/And I just can’t fake it…” emphasize the pain Goffin caused her. Her experience of dealing with his betrayal strengthened her lyrics and music compositions, which would later encourage her to leave for Los Angeles.
After singing a quartet of “You’ve Got a Friend” with Mann, Weil, and Kirshner, King left for Los Angeles with her children to record her own album. As time passes and the album is published, her New York crew flew out to watch her perform “Beautiful” on stage at the Grammys. Mueller’s voice exploded with surging energy and fast paced piano playing. She emphasized King’s life story that you are as “beautiful as you feel” and that no matter how frustrating life can be, always putting a smile on your face and showing the “world all the love in your heart” will create a wonderful impact. King’s albums would go on to win six Grammys and one of the most iconic songs ever, “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet”, was emphatically harmonized at the curtain call.
Everyone in the audience was sad, happy, inspired, touched, and entertained. This Broadway tour cast of Beautiful really captured the legacy of Carole King and told her story very thoroughly. My only issue with the production was that the script never entails the future of her children. King moved them to Los Angles after vacationing there from the big apple, so it seemed odd to me that they were scarcely mentioned. Nevertheless, this musical was wonderful and can teach millions about the obstacles that King overcame to become one of the greatest writers in the history of music.