Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,
on tour at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center through May 8. That’s largely thanks to both Carole King (originally Carol Klein), the legendary singer-songwriter whose music and life story form the backbone for this Tony-winning Broadway show, and the dramatized character as embodied by star Abby Mueller, who eerily evokes King’s voice and spirit. Mueller’s King is spunky yet self-conscious, like a Jewish version of Mad Men
’s Peggy Olson, and when singing anthems like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “A Natural Woman,” she’s able to belt to the back balcony and allow her voice break with emotion at the same time.
Credit is also due to Cynthia Weil, King’s friend and fellow female songwriter (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”), portrayed with zest by Becky Gulsvig, who was equally delightful off-Broadway in the Orlando-born Disenchanted!
The men in their lives – King’s wayward lyricist husband, Gerry Goffin (Andrew Brewer on opening night, Liam Tobin for the remaining run), and Weil’s neurotic lyricist beau, Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser), are mostly there to create crises and provide comic relief, but Douglas McGrath’s book bridges the gaps between the show’s spectacular songlist with surprisingly witty dialogue and emotionally engaging domestic dramas.
Normally, I like to balance a review between praise for the positive and a constructive critique of the flaws, but Beautiful
is the rare show that works on every level, from Alejo Vietti and Derek McLane’s marvelous midcentury-mod costumes and scenery, to Peter Kaczorowski’s jewel-colored lighting, to Marc Bruni’s elegant direction, which approaches the cinematic flow of Des McAnuff’s Jersey Boys
. That’s still my gold standard in the jukebox musical genre, so for me to say Beautiful
is nearly its equal is high praise indeed.
I hate to start a review with a cliché, but “beautiful” truly is the best word to describe