By Britin Haller
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is some kind of wonderful, but don’t expect to groove along with the songs from her greatest hits album, because that’s not what this show is about.
For those unaware, it’s based on a book by Douglas McGrath about Carole’s early years, so prepare to be a bit confused, and yes, perhaps even a tad disappointed, but also don’t be surprised to be hooked from the time a lone piano against the title backdrop cuts a mysterious figure, to witnessing the moment the butterfly who is Carole King emerges from her cocoon.
Forget about the music from Tapestry, stop trying to figure out why most of the tunes are definitively not ones you know to be King’s, or why Neil Sedaka is running around like a madman here, and just let yourself be carried away by Producing Artistic Director Andrew Kato’s glorious production of a young girl’s joys and struggles to make it to the top.
This, you see, is the tale of how 16-year-old Brooklynite Carole Klein meets and falls in love with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, and how the twosome become one of the greatest songwriting duos of all time. All which happens before 1971’s Tapestry was even a glint in Carole King’s eye.
At intermission, one patron said, “It’s great Carole King wrote all these songs, but until tonight I didn’t know she wrote all these songs.”
“Maybe that’s the point,” her companion replied.
Besides Carole and Gerry and their enormous careers and body of work, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical tells the story of their best friends, real-life couple Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann as a competing composing team working in the same office. This duo add a lot of comedy, and as a side note, unlike Carole and Gerry who divorced after a decade due to his roving eye, Cynthia and Barry remained married for 62 years until her death in 2023. Actors Caiti Marlowe and David B. Friedman work seamlessly together, and their voices blend well resulting in some touching harmonies. And Barry’s “We’re good in all the rooms” marriage proposal is perfectly adorable.
Irene Adjan as Genie Klein (Ma) chain-smokes and tells Carole to brush her hair. Irene enjoys some of the best one-liners like comparing Times Square to Hell, and her running joke of trying to entice her daughter to give up songwriting and become a teacher results in a pleasing full-circle bit getting one of the biggest laughs of the night. Not surprisingly, Irene has won the Carbonell Award three times and been nominated twelve.
Jared Reinfeldt is alternatively charming and slimy as cheating husband Gerry, and Nicholas Rodriguez as famed music producer Don Kirshner is a commanding visionary, all the while coming across as a really good boss.
Brian Klimowski and Sean William Davis do a lot with a small scene as The Righteous Brothers performing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Their panning of what is supposed to be a serious song is funny, and what big beautiful voices they have. Sean also excels as Nick, a fellow musician with great hair who pushes Carole, in a good way, to be the best she can be.
In fact, all the singers, dancers, and acts are great, including the lead singer of The Shirelles, but The Drifters were this crowd’s overall favorite. With smooth moves choreographed by Ariel Reid, and exaggerated facial expressions to accompany the lyrics, their performances of “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Up on the Roof,” and “On Broadway,” were show-stoppers met with significant applause and cheering. One Drifter, Jamir Brown, deserves special mention because every time he’s on, even as a background camera assistant in “One Fine Day,” or dancing with Little Eva in “The Locomotion,” he shines. Jamir’s bio says he’s excited to make his Maltz debut, and that is more than apparent. Next up for him is touring North America in Shrek the Musical. Shine on, Jamir.
Also a lot of fun is The Monkees’ hit, the nostalgic “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” a catchy tune written by Gerry and Carole about Gerry’s New Jersey suburban life boredom. Who would have thought it? Certainly not this reviewer.
As time goes on, and Gerry gets more and more tired of and volatile regarding their marriage, Carole’s insecurity grows. “Who wants to hear a normal person sing?” she asks, in one particularly vulnerable instance when she is requested to perform at a bar. “Other normal people,” is nice guy Nick’s reply.
With his encouragement, she gets up there and does it anyway, emotionally releasing the Kraken who becomes Carole King. Before long, she gets a divorce, moves to L.A. and well, we know the rest of the story…Tapestry, the monumental album that went on to sell thirty million copies and win four Grammy Awards.
At the close, Beautiful ends the way it began with just a girl and her piano alone on a stage, and this is where performer Brianna Kothari Barnes comes to life. A professional songwriter herself, this is her dream role, and when Brianna’s mousy little Carole Klein finally comes out as the beloved Carole King persona in one of the most stunning dresses ever, it’s truly a moment for the actor. Carole, and Brianna, really are “beautiful” in more ways than one, and one can imagine, and even hope, to see Brianna play Ms. King in a tribute concert someday somewhere. She’s that believable.
New York casting director Bob Cline has been involved with the Maltz for eight seasons now, and once again, his choice of actors pays off nicely, but there is an impressive amount of talent behind the scenes as well. The sets by scenic designer Ann Beyersdorfer are practical, and there’s a nifty way of pulling the furniture off-stage, with performers still attached, to keep the pace moving. And that funky bar cart likely found itself coveted by more than one theatregoer.
Costume designer Johanna Pan scored a few hits including many of Cynthia’s dresses, The Shirelles’ attire, Marilyn’s bright pink outfit in “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and the entire look for the “Uptown” number, which also earns wig designer Destinee Steele a shout-out, if for nothing else than a frizzier version of Nick Nolte’s “The Dude” hairdo from The Big Lebowski. Sound, by Scott Stauffer, is consistent and at a pleasing level.
The orchestra doesn’t miss a beat, both literally and figuratively, under the tutelage of five-time Carbonell Award winner Eric Alsford. This is Eric’s twelfth production at the Maltz.
Director Matt Lenz, whose extensive impressive credits are too numerous to mention, is the real deal and should be commended for his annual In The Works ~ In The Woods Catskills’ Festival which promotes new plays and musicals. How nice when a person with so much success in their own life pays it back. And how apropos Matt directed this stunning show celebrating the successes of so many others in the industry.
Including the intermission, it’s a rather long night at the theater, but don’t be tempted to duck out before the encore and inevitable standing ovation, (the opening night sold-out audience leapt to their feet), or you’ll miss a special surprise. You might even feel the earth move, so to speak. It’s worth the extra few minutes you’ll save in the parking lot.
Britin Haller is the Senior Editor for Charade Media. Her latest novel is Dumpster Dying by Michelle Bennington, available where books are sold. Find Britin across social media and at Charadebooks.com
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical plays through Jan. 28 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 East Indiantown Road, Jupiter, FL (immediately east of A1A); Shows are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday. Running time approx. 125 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets starting at $85. Call 561-575-2223, or visit jupitertheatre.org.