Review Roundup: ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the new show based on the life and work of the titular singer-songwriter, opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Jan. 12. Before she became a chart-topping solo artist recording her own material, she was Carole Klein, an awkward teenager with a dream of writing pop songs. By the time she reached her 20s, she had a partnership with her husband, Gerry Goffin, and together they turned out hits for such artists as The Monkees, The Shirelles, The Drifters, Little Eva, and Aretha Franklin. But when her personal life falls apart, she strikes out on her own both as a writer and performer, becoming one of the top acts in pop music history. Her first solo album “Tapestry” became the soundtrack for a rebellious and soul-searching America.

The score is chock-full of such King hits as “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” “So Far Away,” “One Fine Day,” and “Natural Woman,” as well as songs by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, close friends of King and Goffin, like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Uptown,” and “On Broadway.” The book is by Oscar nominee Douglas McGrath who co-wrote the screenplay for Bullets Over Broadway with Woody Allen. Marc Bruni (The Explorers’ Club, Old Jews Telling Jokes) directs. Tony nominee Jessie Mueller (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) stars in the title role.

Jessie Mueller takes a bow on stage during the opening night of 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Jessie Mueller takes a bow on stage during the opening night of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Did the critics find the show beautiful? Here are excerpt from the major reviewers.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“As designed by Derek McLane (sets), Alejo Vietti (costumes) and Peter Kaczorowski (lighting), Beautiful nods so often to Michael Bennett’s original production of Dreamgirls that it starts to resemble a bobblehead doll. Originality is clearly not this show’s strong suit. With one very important exception. That’s Ms. Mueller, a Broadway star in waiting for several years, who here steps confidently into the V.I.P. room of musical headliners. Let me qualify that. Much of what makes Ms. Mueller’s performance so touching is its projection of a lack of confidence.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Even if you haven’t memorized the King songbook, you will leave the Stephen Sondheim Theatre humming. Too bad a great musical isn’t only about the music. The book is crucial, too—and this show’s connect-the-dots story line is so simplistic that the extravagantly talented King’s life emerges as a mundane version of the long-suffering little woman.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Is there any lesson to be gleaned from this musical? Don’t write songs for others? Don’t marry men who are bipolar? Perhaps it’s the same as the one from Motown the Musical, the Broadway jukebox show playing nearby with a flimsy and idolizing book by record company founder Berry Gordy: Don’t write honest musicals about living people without breaking some eggs.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“The show segues from scenes of the young songwriters at work to musical performances by ensemble members playing the various acts who covered their material. The ransitions can feel strained and hokey, and the production numbers, while polished, don’t approach the sumptuous hardiness of the original recordings. There are a few quieter, more affecting moments between Mueller and co-star Jake Epstein, who as Goffin conveys both an offbeat charisma and a haunting sense of inner torment. Granted, shows like Beautiful aren’t generally sought out or valued for their nuanced drama. But more discerning fans will be grateful for the little bit of soul that Mueller and Epstein manage to bring to Broadway’s latest musical nostalgia trip.”

Steve Parks, Newsday
“Jessie Mueller strikes a delicate balance between spunk and humility, making it impossible not to root for her as she morphs into an inspired Carole King. Jake Epstein reflects Gerry’s conflicted soul while Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector offer comic contrast to their songwriting rivals’ discord. As Kirshner, Jeb Brown is a softy for anyone who writes a hit, while Liz Larsen struggles to rise above the mother-of-the-star cliches she’s assigned.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“McGrath’s book flirts openly (though not displeasingly) with sitcom dialogue, and by no means skirts the clichés and shortcuts of hackneyed behind-the-music chronicles. But the story, and perhaps more importantly, the characters, are never less than engaging.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“The early life and career of legendary singer-songwriter Carole King surely deserves more imaginative treatment than the corny chronological storytelling (And then we wrote …) and old-fashioned musical format (scene/song/scene/song) of Beautiful. But whenever this bio-musical stumbles over Douglas McGrath’s flat-footed book, helmer Marc Bruni rushes to the rescue with some snazzy piece of stagecraft for the sleek production numbers. And all is forgotten, even momentarily forgiven, whenever Jessie Mueller, in the modest person of Carole King, sits down at the piano and pours heart and soul into familiar favorites from the composer’s songbook.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Like Jersey BoysBeautiful features a smart, well-crafted, and often funny book (by Douglas McGrath) that cleverly threads together a memorable catalog of early rock hits such as ”Some Kind of Wonderful” and ”Take Good Care of My Baby.” It also boasts a winning central performance by Jessie Mueller as the shy Jewish girl fromBrooklyn who only gradually comes into her own as a headlining voice of a generation.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“It’s been widely reported that Carole King will not be attending any performances of Beautiful, the new Broadway musical about her career as a singer-songwriter, allegedly because it depicts painful moments from her life. Well, she can rest assured that Beautiful, a sentimental and sympathetic biography led by a poignant, extremely winning performance from breakout star Jessie Mueller, is slickly staged, genuinely touching and very enjoyable.”

David Finkle, The Huffington Post
“[I]t should have a long and healthy run, if, that is, the producers can either convince Jessie Mueller to remain in the title role forever or, failing that, if they can find replacements as enormously talented as she is and as cannily cast.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown.”

 

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