As a child of the 70s, I grew up with Carole King’s “Tapestry” seemingly always playing in the background.
The singer/songwriter’s smash album was a slice of mellow, AM radio gold that defined pop music’s pre-disco era.
What I was unaware of at the time, when my mother was cranking the LP on the stereo while she cleaned the kitchen, was “Tapestry” was King’s crowning accomplishment in a long and impressive career in the music industry.
King’s fascinating story gets the “Jersey Boys” treatment and is the basis for the rousing, excellent musical “Beautiful,” subtitled “The Carole King Musical,” which is now playing at the Fox Theatre through March 6.
When we first meet Carole (impressively played by Abby Mueller, whose sister Jessie won a Tony for originating the role on Broadway), she is a 16-year-old living in Brooklyn with big dreams.
It is then when she sells her first song “It Might as Well Rain Until September” to record executive Don Kirshner (Kurt Bouril), who sees promise in the young musical prodigy and hires her on.
Carole is able to easily come up with winning melodies, but she struggles with the lyrics. This all changes when she meets Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), a handsome young playwright who sweeps her off her feet as the two become romantic and professional partners.
They struggle at first and quickly get married when Carole becomes pregnant; but it’s not long until Carole and Gerry are cranking out hits for the likes of The Drifters, The Shirelles, and Little Eva.
Their songs “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “The Locomotion” and “One Fine Day” zoom to the top of the charts.
Carole and Gerry strike up a friendship with another songwriting couple Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser), who were no slouches themselves with big hits like “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
The strains of success and failure in the music business of the 1960s affect this quartet in different ways, but the strain falls the hardest on Carole and Gerry.
Carole stays true to herself throughout, content with family life and staying away from the excesses and temptations of the industry. Gerry, not so much.
While this relationship drama is the focus of the story, the heart and soul of the production is the music and the joy of the creative process. Seeing these songs we’ve known by heart for decades come into being around a single piano is a joy to watch.
Mueller does a great job of handling the emotional weight of the musical but also matches King’s earnest, straightforward vocals. By the time she’s come into her own with the “Tapestry” hit parade of “So Far Away,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” you can see the transformation from a wide-eyed teen to a wise and soulful artist is complete.
“Beautiful” is a wonderful musical. It is built on the back of hit songs, but it’s got a big enough heart and a compelling enough story to be so much more than a simple jukebox musical. Don’t miss it.
“Beautiful” is now showing at the Fox Theatre through March 6. For tickets call (314)-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.