Beautiful proves worthy showcase of Carole King's extensive catalog | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Beautiful proves worthy showcase of Carole King's extensive catalog

click to enlarge Beautiful: The Carole King Musical - PHOTO: JOAN MARCUS
Photo: Joan Marcus
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Carole King is a reliable crowd pleaser. Even people who have never heard of King are pleased by her songs, which have been recorded by numerous performers whose ranks include Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Bobby Vee, Kylie Minogue, and Donnie Osmond. In fact, while Googling her name after getting home from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Benedum Center, I discovered yet another song I like that it turns out she wrote.

The chart-topping music legend started off as Carol Klein, a teenager living in Brooklyn in the late 1950s, writing pop songs and trying doggedly to sell them to publishers in the Brill Building. Beautiful follows Klein, played by Sara Shepard, as she pushes her way into the record business and meets her lyricist and husband Gerry Goffin, played here with broad-shouldered charm by James Gish.

Beautiful tells the true story of King’s rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband, to her relationship with fellow writers and friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history.


Beautiful features a stunning array of beloved songs written by Goffin/King and Mann/Weil, including “I Feel The Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” and the performance's title song.

Beautiful is a jukebox musical, a show built to connect a collection of existing songs into a narrative. People often like to scoff at jukebox musicals, but they can be an incredibly good time.
click to enlarge Beautiful: The Carole King Musical - PHOTO: JOAN MARCUS
Photo: Joan Marcus
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Beautiful is successful as a jukebox musical for many reasons, not least of which is King’s extensive and varied catalog, supplemented by Mann and Weil hits like “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” and the creative team’s willingness to leave King’s music alone. Beautiful also bypasses many of the traditional pitfalls of the jukebox musical by declining to force an unrelated narrative onto the songs King and Goffin wrote for other performers such as the Shirelles, the Drifters, and Little Eva, instead inviting those performers to sing the songs King wrote for them.

Most of Beautiful’s songs begin with a single vocalist accompanied by a piano, which creates space for a lovely moment a third of the way through most songs when the orchestrations drop in and, sometimes, in the show’s most successful moments, the scene’s emotional logic clicks into place. Like when the song Carole and Gerry are playing for a record exec becomes both an audition and an expression of the characters’ emotional lives.

Book writer Douglas McGrath did an excellent job of crafting a script full of cute, punchy jokes and understated scenes that lead into some of the show's most iconic songs, allowing the audience to feel like insiders when they recognize the unannounced tune.


Beautiful is a worthy vehicle for King’s excellent songs, rendering them in gorgeous jewel-toned scenes that tell a story about King’s personal and professional life in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Beautiful is fun and unchallenging, which is probably what a lot of us need right now.
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical. Continues through Sun., March 20. Benedum Center. 237 Seventh St., Downtown. $38-115. trustarts.org

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