McGrath lets the lyrics and music carry the emotional weight of the story of Carole Klein, the nebbishy girl from Brooklyn who went on to become Carole King. King is played with utter confidence and believability by Jessie Mueller (Nice Work if You Can Get It, The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Her voice, acting, and keyboard skills are all up to the task of portraying one of pop rock’s most influential song writers.
The musical begins with sixteen year-old King peddling her songs in Manhattan, much to the consternation of her divorced mother Genie (Liz Larsen). Despite being turned down by twelve music publishers for her song “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” she has a lead on a new guy, Don Kirschner (Jeb Brown). Her visit to Kirschner’s office at 1650 Broadway (now home to many Broadway production companies) proves to be the launching pad for her career.
The script moves with lightning speed from Kirschner’s purchase of “It Might As Well Rain Until September” to her meeting, having a baby with, marrying, and divorcing her lyricist partner, Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein). Goffin’s emotional instability and cheating play a role but he is never portrayed as sinister. Goffin is the first of King’s four husbands. Epstein
The stage gets a jolt of electricity with the entrance of Anika Larsen as lyricist Cynthia Weil. Kirschner offers Weil a chance to write lyrics with King but King demurs, preferring to wait for Goffin to write the lyrics (he’s stuck in a day job as a chemist). Weil is then paired with future husband/composer Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector), with whom she wrote decades of hits (including “On Broadway,” “Walking in the Rain,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”).
Marc Bruni has directed Beautiful with a seamless fluidity. He is aided by set designer Derek McClane’s two-tiered set that replicates the old office building where much of the action takes place. Pieces of scenery slide on and off sleekly helping maintain director Bruni’s tempo as he weaves a tapestry that is King’s earlier life.
The music and lyrics from the show are not all King’s, Goffin’s, Mann’s and Weil’s. Also represented in the show are music and/or lyrics by Neil Sedaka, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Bobby Darin, Phil Spector, and others.
The evening presents only a small portion of King’s life, but has been stylishly configured to incorporate and utilize King’s songs to tell the story. The numbers move from studio piano to full-scale production numbers done by the likes of Little Eva (formerly King’s nanny), the Righteous Brothers, and the Shirelles. If you are of a certain age, you will marvel at the role this music has played in our lives. Even if you aren’t of that certain age, King’s songs are timeless and will tug at your heart.