Perhaps you’ve heard her iconic record “Tapestry,” or one of the many hits she wrote for some of the biggest stars of the 1960s and 70s with ex-husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. But the story of Carole King hasn’t been fodder for the type of explosive, biographical screen depictions or had the stage image for character impersonators. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” aims to narrate the life of the singer-songwriter from her early days at Queens College, to her massive Carnegie Hall performance in 1971. The Tony-winning show comes to the Broward Center this weekend for a limited run, with tickets available here.
“Beautiful” features Sara Shepard as the titular Carole King, with the actress previously helming the Broadway production as the Dance Captain and understudying Carole. Some of the most impressive performances in the show is Sara Shepard’s miming playing the piano with near-precision. Though, the obvious clicking of the keys being picked up by the actress’ microphone revealed she and the rest of the on-stage band miming their instruments.
Musically, Shepard’s mezzo-soprano vocal range is able to belt the score beautifully, but it comes across as a missed opportunity to give some representation to a performer who sings in an alto range. While mezzo-sopranos are en vogue for many contemporary musical theater scores, Carole King herself is a natural alto and sadly there aren’t many leading roles currently on Broadway or even historically that feature alto singers. Part of what takes away the believability of King being insecure as a singer on stage is the reality that even in the 1960s/1970s many pop-rock woman singers sang in a similar mezzo vocal range, so King would have to adjust the keys for them as her voice was lower. It can be confusing to see Shepard playing Carole King and not just Jessie Mueller, who originated the Broadway role, playing Carole King.
Douglas McGrath’s book may be the weaker part of the show, although the dialogue from Genie Klein had a slew of one-liners that had the audience chuckling nearly non-stop in the first act. This could be as the Klein character represents a lot of this South Florida audience’s own understanding of living in New York in the 1950s with even Times Square not being the tourist trap it is today. Arguably, what this portrayal of Carole King’s life lacks is a gripping melodrama and true stakes for the stage. Plots and conflicts seem to resolve hastily in the transition of a song, with the show not really pacing out the dramatic tension to let the audience ruminate with the gravity of King’s life in relation to those around her. With the show ending at her Carnegie Hall performance, it feels like a non-ending to not delve into her marriages after Goffin and even her songwriting partnership with James Taylor.
Some of the most impressive design work on “Beautiful” comes from Alejo Vietti’s costuming, especially with the quick changes for Little Eva and the other ensemble cast coming in absolutely breathtaking moments. Vietti’s previous credits with “Jersey Boys” as a costume designer definitely attests to his eye for period detailing and styling an ensemble. Wig designer Charles G. LaPointe’s hair designs also effectively tell the story of Carole’s journey, with a quick change within the first minutes of the show from 1971 Carole’s signature loose curls to 1950s Carole with a high ponytail. LaPointe’s hair has graced the stage of many a jukebox bio-musical from “Ain’t Too Proud” and “The Cher Show” to movie musicals like”Beetlejuice” and ”Amelie.”
“Beautiful” sings the praises of one of pop-rock’s most understated singer-songwriters in a larger-than-life stage. With the stylings and pizzazz of a glamorous Broadway show mixed with the more modest makings of Carole King’s life, the show is an entertaining night of theater. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” plays until June 19th at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts with tickets available here.