This is a baby boomer’s dream.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is chockful of the songs they grew up with.
The play, which in essence follows the bio-musical formula, is like a 2½-hour greatest-hits-of-the-’60s concert. There are the Shirelles, who gave King and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin, their first number-one hit in 1960 with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” Bobby Vee croons “Take Good Care of My Baby.” Little Eva sings “The Loco-Motion.” And the hits kept coming.
King and her husband cranked out Top 40 tunes at an astounding rate, and this musical revels in many of them.
The show opens with King sitting at a grand piano, about to begin her 1971 Carnegie Hall debut. She sings “So Far Away” and the scene quickly segues back to 1958 and the Brooklyn apartment where she lives with her mother. King is 16, smart, sassy and a songwriter. She is about to set off to Manhattan to try to sell her song to music publisher Don Kirshner, who runs a Brill Building-like song factory with multiple rooms packed with songwriters. Her mom objects, but to no avail. Kirshner buys the tune and wants more.
A year later, King is at Queens College and meets Gerry. She writes music, he lyrics. It was destiny.
At Kirshner’s factory, the couple share a wall with songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and a friendly competition between the two teams produces more and more Top 40 tunes: from Mann/Weil, songs such as “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling;” from King/Goffin, hits like “Up On the Roof” and “One Fine Day.”
The musical covers just 13 years in King’s life, from those Brooklyn days through her songwriting years with her husband, their breakup and, finally, to King’s triumphant solo album, “Tapestry,” and that Carnegie Hall debut.
It is a thin story, sometimes straining so that the songs can fit in. But really, who cares?
Because, well, those songs still hold up (OK, “The Loco-Motion” was dumb, even when it came out in ’62, but it still got the toes tapping).
And the performances in this Marc Bruni-directed roadshow were spot-on. Sarah Bockel’s Carole evoked King’s kinda-raspy voice, her vulnerability and her humility, giving some added depth to songs such as “Beautiful,” performed at the end when the singer has finally broken out on her own.
Andrew Brewer portrayed her philandering husband, Gerry, giving him a softer side to go with his cavalier treatment of King. Sarah Goeke and Jacob Heimer infused the Weil/Mann songwriting team with humor and heart.
And all around, the singing — while sometimes a tad too slick (we kinda love the rawness and innocence of the originals) — did the music proud.
“Beautiful” sometimes strains, the format is too clichéd. But the music and performances more than make up for its flaws.