BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL (National Tour, Academy of Music): A finely woven tapestry

Republished by kind permission from Neals Paper

Abby Mueller (Carole King), Becky Gulsvig (Cynthia Weil), Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann) & Liam Tobin (Gerry Goffin) in BEAUTIFUL. Photo by Joan Marcus
Abby Mueller (Carole King), Becky Gulsvig (Cynthia Weil), Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann) & Liam Tobin (Gerry Goffin) in BEAUTIFUL. Photo by Joan Marcus

Like Jersey Boys, BEAUTIFUL by Douglas McGrath goes beyond the formulaic jukebox musical to tell a story that stands on its own as if it wasn’t based on a real singer (Carole King) and the music in it was original to it.

Abby Mueller, on tour, in the part for which her sister, Jessie (now in previews with Waitress on Broadway), earned a 2014 Tony, carries on a family tradition of excellence and puts her own stamp on Carole King, whose spunk, talent, and hamischkeit all come through. Mueller’s performance gives BEAUTIFUL a sympathetic central character to root for, commiserate with, and laud. She keeps King to a human level while showing her variation.

Good as Mueller is, Liam Tobin, as Gerry Goffin, her early writing partner and husband, goes deeper into his character’s complexity and gives a performance beyond what you usually see in a populist musical. Becky Gulsvig is fun as Cynthia Weil (the character with whom I’d want to be friends), and Ben Fankhauser has a funny, neurotic turn as the hypochondriac Barry Mann.

The characters become as important to you as their music and give McGrath’s script texture beyond the and-then-I-wrote parade of tunes. I like that parade and have a preference for the rock and roll song by King and Goffin and by Weil and Mann that appear in the first act than the King solos that dominate the second, almost like a concert.

Mueller aces all vocal performances as King, but I enjoyed the variety of hearing Ashley Blanchet doing several covers as several performers and having Blanchet joined by Brittney Coleman, Rebecca E. Covington, and Salisha Thomas as The Shirelles and Josh A. Dawson, Paris Nix, Jay McKenzie, and Noah J. Ricketts congregating as The Drifters.

BEAUTIFUL satisfies on many levels, and this national tour is every bit as good as the Broadway original. Its players are top-notch. Mueller is superb as King, and Tobin finds and conveys every stratum of Gerry Goffin’s complicated being. Read more on Neals Paper >>

[Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad Street] March 22-April 3, 2016;; see for upcoming dates in other cities.

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