Witness the journey of this incredible rising star. Jessie Mueller plays Carole King. Credit: Joan Marcus
Would that life were as simple as it seems in “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical,” at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. But, hey, we’re talking about a jukebox musical. If you’re looking for complexity, you’re in the wrong genre. But if you’re looking for an exhilarating earful – and eyeful – of dazzlingly presented music from Ms. King’s impressive oeuvre, buckle your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.
“Beautiful” follows King (a fantastic Jessie Mueller) in her evolution from teenage songwriter to mature performing artist. The story: Brooklyn girl sells songs to impresario (Don Kirshner, played by Jeb Brown), marries her lyricist (Jake Epstein as Gerry Goffin) and produces a string of hits. They befriend Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (Jarrod Spector and Anika Larsen), another songwriting couple. The marriage goes well for a while, then sours, but King’s career soars when she starts performing her own material.
Director Marc Bruni cleverly showcases the Motown-era hits from the King-Goffin and Mann-Weill catalogs. Some are sung by the writers, some by the singers who performed them, some by a combination of both. Dressed to the nines, groups like the Shirelles and the Drifters contrast beautifully with the plain-clothed King and company. Derek McLane’s bi-level set is a knockout that Bruni uses to create a whirlwind of activity that never seems chaotic.
And then there’s the music, in all its glorious variety. Whether it’s King-sung standards like “So Far Away” and “It’s Too Late” or her earlier work (who knew that the same person was responsible for “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “The Locomotion”?) it takes enormous willpower not to sing along. No worries — the songs will linger in your mind long after the curtain goes down.