“And the hits just keep on coming!”
That old Top 40 radio tagline used to be a promise of familiar, catchy tunes, but it also could be applied to “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
The story of the struggles and successes of the 1960s hit songwriter turned 1970s hit solo artist is playing now through March 17, at the Fox Theatre.
When we first meet Carole (impressively played by Sarah Bockel), 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 (James Clow), 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 (Dylan S. Wallach), a handsome young playwright who sweeps her off her feet as the two become romantic and professional partners.
They flounder 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 (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer), 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 lifeblood 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.
Bockel 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 musical with heart and soul, as the great songs merely compliment the story of friendship and the celebration of the power of music. The show’s a hit, any way you slice it.