Updated: Nov 22
An upbeat, energetic production that perfectly strikes the delicate balance of telling a story and cramming in a plethora of fantastic tunes.
"Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, " the 2014 jukebox musical currently playing at the La Mirada Theatre through December 3rd, is a masterclass in musical theatre. It brilliantly intertwines Carole King's compelling life story with her iconic music, whose lyrics are often veiled elaborate metaphors and vague imagery.
More than just entertainment, “Beautiful…” is an emotional journey that celebrates King’s legacy, and is delivered by a gilt-edged cast whose performances are as authentic as they are powerful. This show is a true standout, not just for King's fans but for anyone who appreciates exceptional storytelling and music.
Turn on the radio and the odds are good you’ll hear a song written by Carole King. Over the course of her five-decade career, she has written more than 400 songs that have gone on to be recorded by over 1,000 artists, such as The Drifters (“Some Kind of Wonderful“), the Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), Aretha Franklin (“Natural Woman”), Little Eva (“The Locomotion”), Bobby Vee (“Take Good Care of My Baby”), The Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”), and later for her own 1971 gazillion-selling, chart-topping album, “Tapestry,” which more or less becomes the epilogue in the show.
With a book by Douglas McGrath (Oscar-nominated screenwriter for Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway”), words and music by Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil with orchestrations, vocal, and incidental music arrangements by Steve Sidwell, "Beautiful…” portrays Ms. King’s origins as a young songwriter in the Tin Pan Alley of New York.
Sara Sheperd, who recently finished playing Carole King on the National Tour, once again plays the title role, bringing a shimmering pop-folk-rock soprano and finely tuned comic sensibility to the Legend, her voice morphing into a fetching simulation of King's mellow, sultry, Laurel Canyon style, with that unmistakable resonance and slightly wobbly vibrato.
Even Ms. Sheperd’s very presence, by turns awkward and beatific, is equally convincing. As we watch King evolve from a gawky teenager into one of the '60s' reigning hitmakers — and follow her tumultuous relationship with lyricist Gerry Goffin, whom she collaborated with, married at 17 after getting pregnant, and eventually divorced — Ms. Sheperd captures the nervousness, self-doubt and gentle pluck of a shy Brooklyn-girl-turned-iconic-superstar.
At one point, the teenage version of Carole King heads with a friend to New York, hoping to sell one of her numbers. In music business lore, the stately Brill Building in mid-Manhattan has long been credited to be the birthplace of Rock & Roll – a hit-making hive in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s that popped top-of-the-chart singles out of their offices one after the other like bubble-gum out of the mouth of a 10-year old. Upon arrival, Carole tells her worried mother: “It’s like a factory…only they make songs.”
The show is very well balanced and splits the focus between the ill-conceived King/Goffin relationship and that of fellow songwriters and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. (Weil and Mann wrote “Walking in the Rain” along with Phil Spector, “On Broadway,” “We Got to Get Out of This Place,” and many other runaway hits). This allows for a broad range of Billboard Top Spots at the time to also be highlighted featuring overlapping song snippets and segues.
But Ms. Sheperd’s King, who went through some turbulent times with her ex in the beginning, is no glutton for punishment. Instead, this funny musical tunesmith radiates intelligence. Whether she’s a frumpy, late-’50s teen or a 1971 hippie in flowing dress at Carnegie Hall, she always comes across as a gifted artist in love with creating. And Sara Sheperd channels her mentor's role with aching, honest emotion — stripping all the potential cheesiness out of “You’ve Got a Friend,” striking genuine grace notes as well. When she sings the first lines from “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” the song and the moment takes your breath away.
Sara King (no relation), with her moxie, deadpan style of humor as Carole King’s songwriting friend Cynthia Weil, plays nicely off the terrifically talented antics and hypochondria of Barry Mann, Cynthia’s writing partner-turned-lover, played by Trevor James (note: the real Barry Mann, who’s now 84, was in the audience the previous week). Their nerdy-sugary relationship provides the show a nice counterpoint to the often more serious tension between Ms. Sheperd’s King and Mr. Jacoby’s Goffin — this was especially notable in the winter retreat scene in the cabin.
One instance in particular was very delightful: when Mr. James’ initial skepticism about lyrics such as “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and his hilariously dispirited rendition of the opening to “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” morphs into a lower key and a fantastic rendition by Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, AKA: the Righteous Brothers (an outstanding Brady Fritz and James Larsen).
Diving deep into the role of King’s husband, Miles Jacoby’s Goffin is quite spectacular in the part, turning what could be a cardboard villain for some into a deep and moving exploration of a troubled and dysfunctional soul, even suggesting that this songwriting combination is what helped produce so much excellence.
There are also some lovely performances all-around by the supporting players. A few of the notables include a very fine performance by Valerie Perri as the admonishing Genie Klein, the single Jewish Brooklyn mother to King; a quirky performance by Brian Ibsen, as the powerful, and sometimes intimidating hit maker Don Kirshner, the music publisher responsible for starting their careers (Kirshner had teamed up with Bobby Darin to write songs himself in the late ‘50s); an energetic, wide-eyed portrayal of King’s high-school friend Betty by Melissa Musial; and, some very charming production numbers from the ensemble portraying an array of star-powered groups of the age.
While Joyce Chittick’s choreography keeps the polished numbers fun, David Ruttura directs the show brilliantly. The scenic design by Derek McLane is wonderfully versatile, technologically astounding, and always supportive of the tone for each setting. Costume designs by Alejo Vietti shifted the ensemble nimbly from the ’50s through the ’70s, with memorable moments of magic such as The Shirelles’ or Little Eva’s instant change from rehearsal clothes to eye-popping performance dresses.
But magic moments seemed to be everywhere. Ms. Sheperd is rapturous when we see her in her early career as King harmonizing “Some Kind of Wonderful” or “Take Good care of my Baby” with Mr. Jacoby. In the second act, we grow to love Ms. Sheperd even more as we hear her gorgeous takes on “Chains,” “It’s Too Late,” and “A Natural Woman,” which exemplify her personal growth and are movingly executed.
All things considered, Carole King’s story, as portrayed by this splendid cast, is Beautiful indeed. It’s a delightful tale of a woman’s journey into self-empowerment, with music that will stir joyous memories for those of us of a certain age. Other ages will love it as well, so waste no time in getting tickets.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment Present, BEAUTIFUL: The Carole King Musical; Book by Douglas McGrath; Words and Music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. Music by Arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing; Orchestrations, Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Steve Sidwell; Directed by David Ruttura; Musical Direction by Ryan O’Connell; Choreography and Assistant Direction by Joyce Chittick; Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting Design by Ethan Steimel; Sound Design by Josh Bessom; Wig and Hair Design by Kaitlin Yagen; Properties by Kevin Williams; Production Stage Manager Monica Dickhens.
WITH: Sara Sheperd as Carole King; Miles Jacoby as Gerry Goffin; Sara King as Cynthia Weil; Trevor James as Barry Mann; Brian Ibsen as Don Kirshner; Valerie Perri as Genie Klein; Melissa Musial as Betty; Brady Fritz as Neil Sedaka; Briana Brooks as Lucille; Rosharra Francis as Janelle Woods; Jazz Madison as Little Eva; Brady Fritz and James Larsen as The Righteous Brothers; Domo D’Dante, David Ginlet, Cornelius Jones Sr., and Kenneth Mosley as The Drifters; Briana Brooks, Fatima El-Bashir, Rosharra Francis and Jazz Madison as The Shirelles; Briana Brooks, Fatima El-Bashir and Jazz Madison as “One Fine Day” Backup Singers; James Larsen as Nick; Monet Sabel as Marilyn Wald; Fatima El-Bashir as “Uptown” Singer; Brady Fritz as Lou Adler. Understudies: Monet Sabel, James Larsen, Melissa Musial, Brady Fritz, Mitchell lam Hau, Rosharra Francis, Michael Swain-Smith, Fatima El-Bashir, Keturah McIntyre. ENSEMBLE: Edwin Bates, Kaitlyn Nicole Davis, Rosharra Francis, Jamary Alexandra Gil, Kevin Hack, Danielle Herbert, Torrey Linder, Jaques Linder-Long, Nick Moulton, Julian Malone, Nurney, Teshomech Olenja, Monet Sabel, Paul Scanlan, Sarah Sigman, Ben Toomer and Melvin Tunstall III.
BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROL KING MUSICAL runs through December 3, 2023. Performances: November 10 – December 3, 2023; Thurs. at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, Sundays at 1:30pm & 7:30pm. Thursday, November 23rd performance is moved to Wednesday, November 22. Run Time: Two hours 20 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, CA. Tickets range from $19 to $90 (group and military discounts available; $14 student tickets). For information and reservations, call 714-994-6310 or online at: www.lamiradatheatre.com
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
PHOTO CREDITS: Jason Niedle/Tethos