We had a fine time at K-State’s McCain Auditorium at a performance by a touring company of the jukebox musical “Beautiful.” The subject of the story was singer and songwriter Carol King’s career through the release of her album “Tapestry.” This l.p., the make-out record of the ‘70s, stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for an amazing 318 weeks. That’s over six years.
The events of her young adulthood made an almost a sure thing subject for a musical. Its a story about a woman who becomes more independent and successful as she matures. And it allowed the use of a lot of Gerry Goffin and King’s memorable pop songs--”Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Locomotion,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “A Natural Woman,” and the great “Up on the Roof.”
Then, too, the story was extended to include Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the other famous songwriting team of the time. So the cast and pit band (of five, one of them supposedly a drummer) got to offer up “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place.” The latter got the evening’s most rousing performance. The show makes decent use of all these memorable old hits, and of others.
King was played by Sara Sheperd in a series of wigs almost as notable as were the show’s good costumes--and some of those quick costume changes were breathtaking. King’s first husband, the lyricist and apparently neurotic philanderer Goffin was played by James D. Gish, Weil by Sara King, and composer Mann by Ryan Farnsworth, who may have been the most talented of the cast’s impressive singers.
They sang a tad better than they danced, but they moved well-enough, especially during the decade’s backing-singers’ embellishments. And as actors the cast members put over the largely familiar story with its regular stage turns and tag lines. King was sixteen when she met and married Goffin. He suffered from torments unspecified. Drug use and domestic responsibility phobia were suggested as causes of his nervous breakdown. Later the couple divorced.
The mirror image of this romance was the one between Mann and Weil. Early she feared loss of her professional identity if they married. He wore her down.
And as these paired stories are being told, we are being entertained with performances, some by impersonators of specific famous performers, of terrific songs from the Brill building era, the post-Jazz boom period when New York City was prominent in Rock music.
But King, of course, left the East Coast after her divorce and went to California to record solo albums with producer Lou Adler. The second of these albums was “Tapestry.” And that period is remembered in the play.
Among the other historic personages to appear is Don Kirshner (Matt Loehr), who many of us know as the president of his own record company, Kansas’s label, and as the producer of the “In Concert” and “Kirshner’s Rock Concert” television series. He was apparently King’s music publisher.
The script of the show was stock Broadway. Rhythm was frequently under-sold in the arrangements.
And there was a little contained blare in the singing. But these minor weaknesses were off-set by energetic performance by the on-stage cast and by the nostalgic attractions of the songs themselves.
We ended the evening with a version of the King song “Beautiful,” which opened with a spunky reading of the famous opening line, “You’ve got to wake up every morning with a smile on your face/and show the world all the love in your heart.” Then the arrangement got a little soggy. But we still liked the song.