What makes Beautiful, the new Broadway musical covering the rise of Carole King's music career, is all of the little details that come together so brilliantly on the stage. It's fitting that such an under-appreciated talent is represented in an extraordinary show like this one.
Jesse Mueller is phenomenal in the starring role as King, portraying her as meek yet powerful. At times when she's lost, King finds her own way to prevail. Mueller knows exactly how to tug at the audience's heartstrings with impressive range. At the close of the first act, for instance, she calls for some well-deserved sympathy for King with a soft rendition of "One Fine Day" (that is staged beautifully), followed after intermission by a louder "Chains" that lets you know King will be alright.
At every turn, the director (Marc Bruni) and choreorapher (Josh Prince) make the right calls to make a scene or a sequence fuller of emotion and sincerity. However, this musical ultimately falls back on the wonderful chemistry displayed between Mueller at co-star Jake Epstein, in the role of Gerry Goffin. When they make music together as characters, and then sing together as Broadway stars, you are left wanting even more hits. For most, this play, which runs two and a half hours, could have been even longer as it brings you back to another time and place when music brought people together. Harmonies transcend.
For those who don't readily recall the 60s era of music and culture, this show serves as an overview of how pop music evolved with the times. This is perhaps best reflected in the relationship of Cynthia Weil (Anika Larsen) and Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector) who give a little healthy competition and also lots of companionship to the King-Goffin combo at the record company offices at 1650 Broadway in Manhattan.
Much of the music and themes will be familiar, but how it's all arranged to fit is something to marvel at. There's so much to see here that it's a speeding "Locomotion," courtesy of King and her inspiring crew.
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