You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Regional Legit Review: ‘Beautiful — The Carole King Musical’


With: Jessie Mueller, Jake Epstein, Anika Larsen, Jerrod Spector, Jeb Brown, Liz Larsen, Ashley Blanchet, E. Clayton Cornelious, Joshua Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Kevin Duda, Carly Hughes, Sara King, Rebecca LaChance, Douglas Lyons, Chris Peluso, Gabrielle Reid, Arbender J. Robinson, Rashidra Scott, Sara Sheperd, Antoine L. Smith, Melvin Turnstall.

A decade of hits rivaling those in “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia!” in terms of boomer nostalgia value is the estimable main selling point of “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical,” which despite its title is semi-evenly divided between songs by two creative/domestic partnerships, Gerry Goffin/King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil. There’s a lot to like in this unpretentious jukeboxer: Douglas McGrath’s book is better with sly laugh lines than serious matters of the heart, but with Jessie Mueller’s winning Carole and so many ’60s golden oldies briskly packaged in Marc Bruni’s warm, lively production, imminent Broadway prospects look upbeat if not sky-high.

Bookending the show is Carole at a grand piano on the Carnegie Hall stage in 1971, when her second solo album “Tapestry” was on its way to becoming one of the best-selling albums of the rock era. Sporting long frizzy hair and a peasant dress, she cuts an Earth Mother figure apt for her music’s confessional yet entirely accessible pop soul/soft rock canon which defined the early Me Decade’s “singer-songwriter” vogue. But as the flashback majority of “Beautiful” reveals, she’d spent ten-plus prior years in the background primarily writing for black R&B stars and vocal groups in the employ of producer/publisher/promoter Don Kirschner (a cheerfully brusque Jeb Brown).

She and lyricist Goffin (Jake Epstein) had met at college when she was just 16 (she’d skipped a couple grades), their creative collaboration soon turning into something else. When Carole got pregnant, they “did the right thing” and got married. Becoming best friends and friendly rivals with another thrown-together songwriting duo, glam career-focused lyric writer Weil (Anika Larsen) and genial hypochrondriac composer Mann (Jarrod Spector), they see one hit after another race up the charts, sung by everyone from the Drifters and the Shirelles to their teenage babysitter, known as Little Eva.

Having fun with the era’s penchant for uniform duds and dance moves among such acts, the first half of “Beautiful” builds to a peak with Little Eva’s novelty hit “The Loco-Motion.” That first-and-last choreographic highpoint for the evening is performed back-to-back with a great song, Mann-Weil’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” sung by actors playing the Righteous Brothers. (The able ensemble members impersonating these stars aren’t specified in the program or press materials.)

Shorter second act could use a production number with the oomph of “Loco-Motion” — perhaps “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” which if performed by a quartet of ersatz Monkees would not only lighten things up but work a lot better than Mueller’s current rendition. (It makes little sense Carole would sing that dig at suburban banality anyway, since Gerry’s the dissatisfied one.)

The emergence of marital discord as the narrative focus feels pedestrian, partly due to some cliched dialogue. But mostly it’s because Epstein’s Goffin hasn’t had room to develop as a complicated character — he goes from bland nice guy to grousing, infidelity and a nervous breakdown without ever really establishing a distinct personality. By contrast, an elegantly witty, big-voiced Larsen and often delightful Spector (who makes little impression musically until a terrific “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”) nimbly fill out their character types, while Mueller (Broadway’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”) is by turns soulful, sweet and sharp, but always endearingly the nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn. Her vocals echo King’s straightforward warmth without outright mimicry.

Derek McLane’s scenic design of swiftly moving platforms and panels, occasionally reaching up to a second tier, reflects the bind of a show that’s both earnest bio-drama and encapsulated pop nostalgia — it’s bright and efficient but hesitant to commit too much one way or the other. Other design contribs are savvy. Steve Sidwell’s arrangements straddle retro and contemporary sounds to generally fine effect, ably played Jason Howland’s twelve-member orchestra.

Popular on Variety

Regional Legit Review: 'Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical'

Curran Theatre, San Francisco; 1,665 seats; $210 top. Opened, reviewed Oct. 8, 2013. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.


A Paul Blake, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Jeffrey A. Sine, Richard Smith, Mike Bosner, Harriet N. Neve/Elaine Krauss, Terry Schnuck, Patty Baker/Good Productions, Roger Faxon, Larry Magid, Kit Seidel, Orin Wolf/StylesFour Productions, William Court Cohen, John Gor, BarLor Productions, Matthew C. Blank, Joel Hyatt, Marianne Mills, Michael J. Moritz Jr., Brunish & Trinchero and Jeremiah Harris presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Douglas McGrath, words and music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. 


Directed by Marc Bruni. Choreography, Josh Prince. Sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Alejo Vietti; lighting, Peter Kaczorowski; sound, Brian Ronan; hair & wigs, Charles G. LaPointe; makeup, Joe Dulude II; casting, Stephen Kopel; orchestrations, vocal/incidental music arrangements, Steve Sidwell; music supervision/additional music arrangements, Jason Howland; production stage management. Peter Hanson. 


With: Jessie Mueller, Jake Epstein, Anika Larsen, Jerrod Spector, Jeb Brown, Liz Larsen, Ashley Blanchet, E. Clayton Cornelious, Joshua Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Kevin Duda, Carly Hughes, Sara King, Rebecca LaChance, Douglas Lyons, Chris Peluso, Gabrielle Reid, Arbender J. Robinson, Rashidra Scott, Sara Sheperd, Antoine L. Smith, Melvin Turnstall.

More Legit

  • Ephraim Sykes participates in the 73rd

    Michael Jackson Musical Finds Its King of Pop

    Tony Award nominee Ephraim Sykes will moonwalk on Broadway, playing Michael Jackson in “MJ The Musical.” The show, which its the Great White Way after a rocky gestation. It begins previews on July 6, 2020, at the Neil Simon Theatre with an official opening set for Aug. 13. Sykes is currently appearing in another pop [...]

  • A Christmas Carol review

    Broadway Review: 'A Christmas Carol'

    Those expecting a traditional take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday perennial may be in for a shock at the new Broadway version of “A Christmas Carol.” Or at least they might be terribly perplexed by this dour production, whose additions only subtract from the potency of the transformative tale. While there have been many adaptations [...]

  • Timothee Chalamet poses for photographers at

    Timothée Chalamet to Make London Stage Debut With Eileen Atkins in '4000 Miles'

    Timothee Chalemet is set to take to the London stage for the first time, appearing next spring in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “4000 Miles.” Matthew Warchus will direct the production at The Old Vic, which will also star Eileen Atkins (“The Crown,” “Gosford Park”). The play opens April 2020. It turns on the story [...]

  • Jonathan Groff

    Listen: Jonathan Groff Knows He's a Spitter

    If you’ve seen “Little Shop of Horrors” — the starry revival headlined by Jonathan Groff in a small Off Broadway theater — you probably noticed that Groff spits a lot when he speaks onstage. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s been a spitter as long as he can remember, but “Little Shop” [...]

  • Key Largo

    L.A. Theater Review: Andy Garcia in 'Key Largo'

    Would “Casablanca” make a good play? Guess what: It was first produced on stage as “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.” How about “Key Largo,” the black-and-white Bogie-and-Bacall vehicle in which a handful of misfits find themselves trapped in a South Florida hotel while a hurricane rages outside? In fact, the 1948 John Huston film was adapted [...]

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    How 'Beetlejuice: The Musical' Became a Broadway Turnaround Story

    Christopher Kuczewski is what you’d call a Netherling. It’s a reference to the netherworld inhabitants who populate “Beetlejuice: The Musical,” the off-beat adaptation of the 1988 hit film that’s becoming an unlikely Broadway turnaround story. And that designation, which has been given to superfans of the show, goes a long way towards explaining how a [...]

  • Lena Waithe'The Inheritance' Broadway play opening,

    Lena Waithe, Anderson Cooper Attend Broadway Opening of 'The Inheritance'

    “The Inheritance” pulls viewers in many directions — toward pain and hope, trauma and healing. It’s what brought stars like Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Lena Waithe to Broadway on Sunday — a chance to heal, to remember and grieve. Also in attendance for the premiere at the Barrymore Theater [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content