Produced by: Paul Blake, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Broadway San Jose
Directed by: Marc Bruni
Choreographed by: Josh Prince
Featuring: Sarah Bockel, Andrew Brewer, Sarah Goeke, Jacob Heimer, James Clow, Suzanne Grodner, McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Jordan Edward André, TyNia René Brandon, Josh A. Dawson, John Michael Dias, Matt Faucher, Kaylee Harwood, Willie Hill, James Michael Lambert, Traci Elaine Lee, Jay McKenzie, Aashley Morgan, Elena Ricardo, Ximone Rose, LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, Avery Smith, Alexis Tidwell, Kristopher Stanley Ward
When: November 14-19, 2017
Where: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose
Tickets: $43-$128 (subject to change); visit www.ticketmaster.com; go to the City National Civic Box Office, 150 W. San Carlos Street, San Jose; or calling 800-982-2787
of Carole King's life
at San Jose Center for Performing Arts
Growing up, my father used to take my family to musicals in the West End of London. On exiting the theater his first words were nearly always “What was your favorite song?”
If he’d asked me that question after last night’s show I would have been hard pressed to find an answer. Carole King’s melodies with husband Gerry Goffin’s words were the soundtrack for teenage angst of 1960s American youth. “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” were part teeny bopper songs, part couples therapy.
“Beautiful” charts King’s life and musical career from 16-year old songwriting prodigy in New York through to her insanely popular solo album “Tapestry,” which has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. But “Beautiful” is more than just renditions of Carole King songs. It is an interesting and fun look back at the songwriting “factories” of that age. There was constant pressure to produce the next hit, and the competition was hot.
At 16 King, played by Sarah Bockel, was studying to become a teacher. She changed her name from Klein to appear less Jewish in ’60s New York. “Girls don’t write music, they teach it,” says her Jewish mother played by Suzanne Grodner. Ma has some of the best lines in the show. But King persists, finally getting Don Kirshner (Don Clow) to take her first song “It Might As Well Rain Until September.”
Gerry Goffin (Matt Faucher) always wanted to be a playwright apparently, so writing lyrics was the next best thing. He meets King at Queen’s College, Brooklyn, and they start writing together. They do more than write together, and King gets pregnant at 16, though Goffin does the right thing and marries her.
Bockel plays King perfectly. From a 16-year old with limited dress sense to a more mature and world-weary 28-year old. She matches King’s singing style, and her ever-changing hairstyles (thank you Charles G. LaPointe) are in tune with the changing styles of the ’60s and ’70s.
Once inside Kirshner’s song factory, King meets Cynthia Weil (Aashley Morgan) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer), who form a songwriting couple to compete with King and Goffin. The Drifters, played by Josh A. Dawson, Jay McKenzie, Avery Smith and Kristopher Stanley Ward, show us how to dance and sing with the King/Goffin number “Up On The Roof,” and the Weil/Mann composition “On Broadway.” But the Weil/Mann composition “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” sung exquisitely by Righteous Brothers Jordan Edwin Andre and John Michael Dias, showed us that there was no limit on great songwriting. It’s interesting to hear that The Shirelles were looking for a “sophisticated” song that would get them off the R&B charts. King and Goffin delivered with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
Most of the action takes place in Kirshner’s song factory, and Derek McLane’s scenic design is wonderful. A backdrop of musical instruments, reel-to-reel tape recorders and recording equipment sets the mood for songwriting and the performers who stream through the offices.
As the ’60s wear on and the teenyboppers mature, the music begins to change, with less emphasis on danceability and more on meaning and rebellion. Goffin and King move out to rural New Jersey and pen “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” which is a hit for TV group The Monkees. Weil and Mann decide to go edgier and come up with “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” a hit for The Animals.
But Goffin is feeling restless with family and country life and makes frequent visits to the city, where it becomes apparent he is having affairs with various female singing stars. Finally King has had enough and throws him out. She’s lived nearly half her life with, so feels completely lost. Lucky for us she decides to move west to Los Angeles.
It is there, with the help of producer Lou Adler and friends Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, that she writes “Tapestry,” which goes on to sell 25 million copies. Unlike her previous work, she decides that the best person to sing these songs is the person that wrote them — her. Whereas her early songs defined the angst of 16-year olds — boys and girls — the material on “Tapestry” was deeper, more mature. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” had already been a hit for Aretha Franklin, and “You’ve Got A Friend” went to No. 1 for James Taylor. But the breadth and depth of songs such as “It’s Too Late,” “Where You Lead,” and “I Feel The Earth Move” cemented King in the hearts — and the cassette players and 8-tracks — of a generation of fans.
This show is a wonderful story of a talented individual who channels the tough times of her own life into her music. There is some great dialog, and we’re almost surprised when another song comes along. Pleasantly surprised. And by the way, the band, directed by Susan Drauss, really rocks. King was never comfortable performing in front of a live audience, but in closing the show we see her doing just that, to rapturous applause, as she takes Carnegie Hall by storm. They say that to get there you gotta practice. But to Carole King it just came naturally. Beautiful.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at email@example.com