Beautiful: The Carole King Musical follows the life of Carole King. Carole King co-wrote successful pop songs in the 1960s with her husband, Gerry Goffin. You may know some of Carole King’s songs in Beautiful, like “The Loco-motion” by Grand Funk Railroad and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin.
Beautiful tells Carole King’s story by showing two sides. It shows the writing process for Carole, which involves co-writing with Gerry and having a friendly rivalry with her coworkers. Then, Beautiful shows the product of Carole’s work through performances by famous singers. Below is a picture of Little Eva performing “The Loco-motion” in Beautiful.
For those who did not grow up during the 60s, Beautiful bridges the time gap in its musical numbers with ensembles that play the role of 1960s singers. In typical 1960s fashion, these musical numbers involve elegant clothing, a small choir of backing vocals, and a bouncy choreography.
One thing that makes Beautiful interesting is its perspective on the music industry. Carole King wrote the instrumentals for songs while her husband wrote the lyrics. However, most credit would be given to who performed the song, like Aretha Franklin for “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” So Carole and Gerry would need to find someone to sing their songs. Beautiful gives us an inside look into the music industry when Carole’s record label needs someone to write a song for The Shirelles. For Carole and Gerry, this starts some friendly competition with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, a song-writing duo like them. As consumers, we usually only know songs by their titles and artist, while those who ghostwrite are forgotten. It was interesting to see what the music industry looks like from a perspective that isn’t a celebrity’s.
Some of the funniest moments in Beautiful are about clichés in pop music. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are songwriters with whom that Carole works. They are played by Adam Marino and Krystle Armstrong-Alan respectively. While writing a song with Cynthia, Barry says “No song that does well has a whoa-oh-oh (in a comically deep voice).” In the next scene, The Righteous Brothers, played by Jason Weitkamp and Matthew Posner, perform Barry’s song. On opening night, all The Righteous Brothers’ deep “whoa-oh-ohs” were hilarious, and each subsequent one was met with more laughter.
The music in Beautiful plays a huge part in telling the story of Carole King’s life, especially her tumultuous marriage to Gerry Goffin. Sarah Rose Davis, who plays Carole King, expresses Carole’s feelings toward Gerry by singing Carole’s songs. In Act 1, Gerry and Carole have to take care of their children, work, and write music, which has put stress on their relationship. As they are writing lyrics together one night, although Gerry is tired from his day job as a chemist, he finishes the lyrics to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and falls asleep on the couch. Carole picks up the lyrics and sings from it: “Tonight, the light of love is in your eyes. But will you love me tomorrow?” Gerry’s lyrics convey the love and anxiety he feels. While Carole sings, she looks lovingly at Gerry, which gives the audience a sense that she is reciprocating his love and reassuring him through their music.
Even after Carole and Gerry divorce, their love is still in their music. This is best portrayed when Carole is recording her album Tapestry. She is hesitant to include the song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” because Gerry wrote the lyrics. The audience gets the sense that Carole is bittersweetly celebrating the love they shared when Sarah Rose Davis sings, “Before the day I met you, life was so unkind. But you’re the key to my peace of mind.”
The beauty in music is how it creates a sense of empathy between artist and audience. In Beautiful, music helps set the scene for the 1960s and tell the story of Carole King’s life. Most importantly, it shows how music evokes feelings and how it colors our lives. Whether you’re a fan of Carole King’s music or not, Beautiful will get your toe tapping and your head bopping, and it’ll give you a new appreciation for music.
Beautiful, Village Theatre. The Francis J. Gaudette Theatre. 303 Front Street N, Issaquah, WA. Issaquah showings: November14- December 30, 2023. Everett showings: January 6-January 28, 2024.
Issaquah tickets: https://tickets.villagetheatre.org/TheatreManager/1/login?event=3935
Everett tickets: https://tickets.villagetheatre.org/TheatreManager/1/login?event=3941