Carole King wrote the soundtrack for a generation. But, her famously relatable and heart-breakingly beautiful album, Tapestry, was released in 1971, well before any of today’s generation of kids and teens were born. Currently showing at the Buell Theater at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Beautiful The Carole King Musical goes even further back, into the 1950s and 60s. The play illuminates the trials and successes of King’s musical career, as well as her tumultuous personal life during those years. This unfamiliar subject and time period might discourage younger theater goers from seeing this one during its July 19th through July 31st stint in Denver. But what will stun those skeptics is the power of King’s musical arrangements and lyrics, when played out amidst a realistic and lively moving-piece set, and with choreography that could stand up to any other Broadway show. Beautiful reaches out through the years gone by to comfort and inspire those from any generation.
The musical’s comic relief, provided mainly by Becky Gulsvig as Cynthia Weil and Ben Fankhauser as Barry Mann, a couple who were both King’s fiercest songwriting competition and loyalist friends, adds the levity needed to the often dramatic careers, marriage, and eventual divorce of composer King and lyricist Gerry Goffin, played by Liam Tobin. Abby Mueller, who stars as King, gives the legend a stunning vocal tribute, with plenty of Broadway belting and emotion. The show’s small ensemble dazzles, by portraying the many musical groups the four collaborators wrote songs for. Several songs are reprised by the ensemble in fabulously flashy musical numbers, after first being introduced as King seemingly effortlessly composes and sings them, sitting at a small piano in her office or home. These repeats don’t slow the gracefully moving action of the musical, but they give a glimpse into how King’s most famous songs were influenced by her own emotions.
Beautiful is not the most unique or novel story ever performed on stage, but in its relate-ability, it draws the audience in, to the point where even kids perhaps decades younger than those of the median age in the theater will be passionately clapping along to the encore, as if they’ve known King’s music all their lives.