Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Beautiful on Broadway: Just Superb

My wife and I just got back from seeing Beautiful on Broadway - the Carole King life story musical - courtesy of my birthday present from our kids.  We loved it.  The play is a gem on all kinds of levels.

First, I should mention that the title role was played someone who just took on the part earlier this month - Abby Mueller, sister of Jessie, who established the role to rave reviews and awards in 2014-2015.   I have no idea what Jessie's performance was like in person, but it's hard to believe it was better than Abby's, whose voice, especially in the closing full-throated Carole King songs, was superb.

Evan Todd, who recently took on the role of King's writing partner and husband, Gerry Goffin, was good, too.   Jessica Keenan Wynn as Cynthia Weil and Ben Jacoby as Barry Mann, also not from the original cast, were outstanding and got as much applause, well deserved, as the lead couple.

Here, let me mention something I've sort of known for decades - since the 1960s, actually - but which became especially clear during the musical.  Goffin and King wrote some of my all-time favorite pop-rock songs, including "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and "Chains".   But Mann and Weil were more sophisticated, daring. and moved pop and rock to a whole new level.  Their diversity was also extraordinary - including "On Broadway," "Walking in the Rain," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," and "We Gotta Get Out of this Place," and (not performed in the musical) "Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby" and "Brown-Eyed Woman".  (Including Mann and Weil in this story was just a master-stroke.) The only Goffin-King song on that level was "Natural Woman," given a soulful, memorable rendition by Abby Mueller.

The Shirelles The Drifters, and The Righteous Brothers - who performed some of these wonderful songs - were all represented in the musical, with song-and-dance numbers that brought down the house.  Kudos to Gisela Adela, Rashidra Scott, Yasmeen Sulieman, and Nasia Thomas as The Shirelles; James Harkness, Douglas Lyons, Nicolas Ryan, and Alan Wiggins as The Drifters; and Adam Dietlein and Kevin Duda as The Righteous Brothers.   And, for that matter, the orchestra/band as well.

These kinds of musicals, which (I'm pretty sure) began with Ellie Greenwich's  mid-1980s Leader of the Pack, are always appealing.  (In a little-known interlude in my history, Ellie Greenwich co-produced my group The New Outlook aka The Other Voices in the late 1960s - see here for details.) The stories are often similar - a husband-and-wife writing team who met and married young, produced great songs, but split up under the pressure of fame and volatile personalities.  (Mann and Weil, though, are still married - my wife and I also loved their cabaret life-story, They Wrote That? with the two of them in Manhattan back in 2004 - another birthday present).

But Carole King's life story is different.  After she left Gerry, she did the rare thing of not only writing her own songs but singing them, and creating one of the best albums of all time, Tapestry. Beautiful is a fitting musical tale of how that masterpiece came to be - a masterpiece in itself, and, like King's music (and Goffin and King's, and Mann and Weil's), a play that will last for the ages.

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