Pop music lovers beware; this upbeat jukebox musical will have you moving and grooving to some of the greatest hits of all time. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical follows the personal and professional life of Carole King, the wildly successful singer-songwriter, and presents a mesmerizing concert of 50s, 60s and 70s hits to the audience. Though the musical only covers a small part of her life – the late 1950s to the early 1970s – this two-hour show packs energy, musicality, character development and moments of shameless cheesy jokes that you can’t help but giggle at. Plus Alejo Vietti’s brilliant costume design and smashing choreography by Josh Prince really set the stage for the “doo-wop” era.
If you’re not quite sure who Carole King is, you’ll learn very quickly in the first act that she’s behind some of the most beloved “oldies,” such as “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” The effortlessly talented Sarah Bockel portrays King in the most charming and mature manner, and honestly looks just like her. We see her grow from a young, giddy 16-year-old student at Queens College to an elegant, sophisticated artist behind the piano at Carnegie Hall, which is where we see her from the start of the first act to the end of the second act. Douglas McGrath’s script portrays King as a talented pianist and songwriter who gets her start at 1650 Broadway thanks to big-time publisher Don Kirshner, played hilariously by James Clow.
After meeting and collaborating with her handsome lyricist boyfriend-turned-husband Gerry Goffin, played by the studly Dylan S. Wallach, King’s career only skyrockets further and the audience is treated to an impressive number of their hits performed by The Drifters and The Shirelles — portrayed authentically by the insanely talented ensemble members.
Though Bockel does a thorough job capturing the charismatic nature of King’s character and contributes to the cheerfully cheesy jokes that had the crowd chuckling, it’s mostly songwriter Barry Mann, played by Jacob Heimer, that adds a huge chunk of humor to the show with his hypochondriac tendencies and abnormal but entertaining anxiety.
Mann and Cynthia Weil, another successful pair of hit-makers for artists such as The Righteous Brothers and The Crystals, are both competitors and best friends to Goffin and King. Throughout the first act, we see the two pairs battling for Kirshner’s approval with songs such as “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and a personal favorite, “The Locomotion.” In addition to enjoying music that has paved the way for the pop and R&B genres, we get a chance to see the romantic relationships from both partnerships unfold, with King and Goffin’s ending on a low note (King has married three times since then), and Weil and Mann’s chemistry resulting in a long-running marriage.
The highlight of the musical was hearing Bockel belt some of King’s most beloved hits from her Grammy-winning album Tapestry, including “It’s Too Late” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” At this point in the musical, King was becoming more independent and moving to the West Coast to create her self-sung album. Each Carole King solo, and every musical number for that matter, was received by a roaring, applauding audience as if it was really these famous singers and groups performing in front of our very eyes.
All ages can relate to the themes of the show — dream big and work hard to get where you want, show and give love, and most importantly, girl power. With wit, humor, grace and pure talent, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a must-see for those who love a good success story. The powerful vocals and energetic cast will leave you completely satisfied by this jukebox musical.
The National Theatre DC: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.org