By Daniel Skora
The show is “Beautiful” because that’s the title of one of the cuts off the album that spent a phenomenal six years on the best-seller charts. It’s “Beautiful” because the music the songwriter created provided the soundtrack for a generation. And it’s “Beautiful” because that’s the best word to describe the woman whose career the musical showcases: composer, musician, and performer Carole King. “Beautiful The Carole King Musical” is the show’s full title and it’s currently appearing at the Fisher Theatre for a four week engagement. The musical opened on Broadway in January of 2014 where it’s still running, with Detroit being the current stop of the show’s first National Tour.
Carole King (Julia Knitel) has been a part of the music business since she was 16. In the early sixties she wrote and recorded “It Might As Well Rain Until September”, a song that met with moderate success. But soon after that King’s career changed from performing to full-timecomposing, and what followed was an incredible string of hits written with lyricist Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin). Their songs were recorded by some of the best singers and groups of the era like The Drifters, The Chiffons, The Shirelles, Tony Orlando, Little Eva, and Bobby Vee. In 1971, King returned to performing, recording an album of very personal songs she had either written or co-written. The album was “Tapestry”, and it went on to become an enormous hit, winning Grammy Awards for Best Album, Best Single (“It’s Too Late”), Song of the Year (“You’ve Got a Friend”), and Best Female Vocal.
Over two dozen songs are included in this juke box musical which also tells the story of those early years of King’s career and some who played an important part in it. She worked hard at making a name for herself in those early years, managing to juggle her career with being a mom to a young daughter she had with Goffin, whom she married. Fellow songwriters Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) and Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) became both friends and rivals, and also play a significant part in the show. Mann and Weil wrote hits for The Crystals, The Ronettes, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and The Righteous Brothers. A selection of their songs is also included in the show. Others who play a major role in the show include King’s mother Genie (Suzanne Grodner) and record producer Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril).
“Beautiful” is nostalgic and entertaining. The show contains one greatest hit after another and is sure to strike a chord with those lucky enough to have been there during the sixties when the music was fresh. Songs include “On Broadway”, “The Locomotion”, “one Fine Day”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. It’s an all-star assembly of tunes that will stir your memories and long for the good old days. For those born a half-generation later, the several songs from “Tapestry” provide memories of a later era. Much of the musical’s charm comes from the performance of Julia Knitel, whose personality fits perfectly the woman who was able to rise above the often times seedy business of music publishing and maintain her dignity. Knitel is also capable of delivering King’s material with heart and soul.
The show’s set, by designer Derek McLane, is a grid-like arrangement of waffled squares and rectangles randomly displaying guitars and tape recorders used to make recordings in the sixties. Scene changes are accomplished smoothly and efficiently, with furniture and props gliding effortlessly in and out of the various sets. Period costuming is by Alejo Vietti. Lighting, which is important here in establishing both mood and movement, is by Peter Kaczorowski.
Though “Beautiful The Carole King Musical” will have special appeal to those who remember listening religiously to Top 40 radio, all the songs contained in the show have long since attained classic status. In addition, most of the songs are so good they continue to be recorded by today’s artists. The show is a happy one, filled with feel-good music you won’t want to miss. It runs through January 8th. Book is by Douglas McGrath, words and music by Goffin & King and Mann & Weil. Tickets are on sale at the Fisher Theatre box office in the Fisher Building, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, and online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.TicketMaster.com. The Fisher Theatre is located at 3011 West Grand Blvd. in Detroit.