We Feel the Earth Move: A Review of 'Beautiful: A Carole King Musical'
Running at the Meralco Theater until July 7 is Atlantis Theatrical’s production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Without a doubt, this heady shot of Tin Pan Alley nostalgia will be the must-see of the Titas of Manila, dragging their husbands to watch. And it’s my fervent hope that the musically-inclined millennials, and those into the history of Pop music, will find their way to the theater as well. For the musical is the glorious celebration of one very unique singer-songwriter, Carole King.
Upping the stakes of how Beautiful has come to life under the direction of Bobby Garcia, is how it’s also a veritable showcase of today’s younger talents. If this is one of the productions that bear witness to the proverbial passing of the torch in our local musical theater, it’s so fitting that it’s done with material that looks reverentially to the past. Kayla Rivera plays Carole King, paired with Nick Varricchio who’s Gerry Goffin, the man who teamed up with Carole to write the lyrics in the early to mid-1960’s, and became her husband. And there’s George Schulze as Barry Mann and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante as Cynthia Weil, Carole’s friend and songwriting rival. Between the two couples, they wrote a great number of the most memorable hits of the era.
Set in New York’s Brill Building, the first half of the play is a visual and aural delight. King and Goffin were tunesmiths in a virtual assembly line of hits, supervised by Don Kirshner (Jamie Wilson), one of the era’s most influential in the recording industry. How the King/Goffin team would literally compete with Mann/Weill is at the center of the first half’s narrative. And you’ll love the device of how they frame the songwriting efforts to segue into a full production number of the acts that went on to record these hits. From the Drifters to the Shirelles, from “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to “The Locomotion,” there is so much to sing along to in this production.
As the second act brings to the forefront Carole’s personal trials of Gerry being a serial philanderer, the mood of the play shifts a beat. There’s bitter irony in the lyrics of “One Fine Day” that has to be seen to appreciate its poignancy. We touch towards the end on how Carole’s seminal album Tapestry came to be — the songwriter emerging from her shell to sing and record her own songs. My only issue with this second half is how some of the segueing into the songs is a bit clumsy. This is especially so with “You’ve Got a Friend.” It’s one of Carole’s songs that obviously had to make the cut into the musical, but it’s brought on in too artificial a manner.
From a wide eyed 16-year old songwriter, pulling songs out of her hat for others to record and make history with, to finally having the gumption to perform her own songs, Beautiful is a fascinating musical journey that is still playing on Broadway today. Tapestry is still one of the all time best selling albums ever produced, and while Carole King has retired, this play is a potent reminder of the long shadow she has cast. We are lucky to be gifted with such a sparkling, energetic production.
Tickets are available at TicketWorld.
Photos from Atlantis Theatrical and Broadway World