By Mackenzie Cutruzzula
To be honest, I felt underwhelmed when my mother announced we would be seeing “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” for our yearly Broadway show. However, like with most things in life, mothers really do know best.
Although housed in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, the show opens with a peak into the future when Carole King (Chilina Kennedy) would let her hair down and perform her classic album, “Tapestry” at Carnegie Hall. I was hooked from King’s first line: “There’s no better way to get applause in New York than to start with, ‘I was born in Brooklyn…’”
This, of course, led to the intended response from the crowd. As the audience is transported back into the past, they are given a look into how King’s personal evolution sculpted the music revolution of the ’60s and ’70s.
“Beautiful” is innovative in the musical arena because it utilizes its score in an original way, mostly because its score isn’t comprised of original music specifically for the show. The score uses the songs written in King’s early career with her first husband, the legendary Gerry Goffin (Scott J. Campbell), and their rivals Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector) and Cynthia Weil (Jessica Keenan Wynn).
As a cynical millennial, I scoffed and assumed I wouldn’t even know a tune to any of the songs. Again I was gladly mistaken. For anyone who has ever danced “The Locomotion” or felt like “A Natural Woman,” this musical will have you dancing in and out of your seat. I had never known that just four people wrote almost all of the most popular songs of the ’60s. Even more amazing to me, King wrote these hits as just a teenager.
The original lyrics of decades past were able to transcend time, and when no longer isolated on the radio, they added a personal component to the musical. “Beautiful” highlighted the behind-the-scenes stories of what inspired many of the lyrics of these popular songs. By showing their transition from early ideas to actual performances by well known bands such as The Drifters and The Shirelles, however, the musical numbers added a performance value that kept the show flowing smoothly. The same idea is applied to the character’s development throughout the show, specifically King’s transition from young go-getter to well rounded performer.
We learn from the show’s opening scene that at 16-years-old, King was not only academically advanced for her age, but was extremely driven for success. So driven, in fact, that she begs her mother to let her travel from their Brooklyn home to Times Square to sell a song to Donnie Kirshner.
“If there were only two places in the world, Hell and Times Square, the nice people would live in Hell,” says King’s mother about the run-down Times Square of the 1960s.
As King overcomes obstacles in the record business, she runs into personal problems when she meets Goffin a junior at Queens College where she attends school. When they agree to collaborate, they find a connection on a deeper level than just music, and their romance results in King’s teenage pregnancy. The two marry and continue to write the jukebox hits that keep their young family on their feet. However, Goffin’s lyrics hint at his feelings of restlessness in his marriage, and eventually he confesses his lyrics rooted in passion are about other women. At this moment of darkness in King’s life, the audience sees that her light is about to shine bright.
King tries to save her marriage by moving somewhere no New Yorker could ever imagine settling, New Jersey. The elderly woman seated to my left said aloud that King was such a good wife for taking her husband back after the affair. I thought to myself, ‘Oh yeah, lady, this is all so peachy,’ especially since the move to West Orange, N.J. inspired The Monkees hit, “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
Do not be deterred though, because like any metamorphosis, the beauty does not come until after the climax. When Goffin is caught cheating again, King becomes the progressive woman she after becomes known for and divorces him to move to Los Angeles with her daughters. She lets her wavy locks down and unleashes her inner voice for the world. The transformation is complete when King performs “It’s Too Late,” bringing me to tears and her to an L.A. recording studio to record her best selling album, “Tapestry.” Ending where the show started, King comes onto stage at Carnegie Hall alone and sings the title song “Beautiful.”
The musical eloquently shows how the transition from the ’60s to the ’70s brought revolution to many groups of people and, specifically, King’s transformation into a progressive woman, which was contrasted by her ex-husband’s downfall. The musical was a truly “beautiful” story for the young and old to relate to because the music highlighted the highs and lows for both the men and women of the time. King will remain a legend, and through this musical, her story of evolution will continue to shine. For now, you can find me listening to my mother’s original 1971 “Tapestry” album on my record player.