Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a Hit for the Capital Region
By Marc Gronich
Schenectady, NY – Carole is king and queen of a certain type of music genre that lived more than 50 years ago. She wrote the music to songs that had a hopeful and inspiring message. I thought it was akin to country music lyrics written in a pop format.
From her life story emerged a Broadway musical which has also hit the road. The touring company of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was performed at Proctors in Schenectady in April to the delight of a mostly sold out audience of King’s fans exceeding the half century mark. Many parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles brought their younger family members to get a taste of music from a bygone era. The musical opened on Broadway January 12, 2014.
The play tells the story of Carole King’s rise to fame and her fortunes in love and music beginning in the 1950s as a teenaged songwriter. Born Carole Klein to a Jewish family in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, King is portrayed as an innocent teen at Queens College when she meets Gerry Goffin, a lyricist his own right, her eventual husband and father of one of her four children from four marriages, all ending in divorce.
By seeing the play you would not know King was Jewish except for a brief mention of her last name during one of the opening scenes. The producers may have wanted it that way but she is one of the many singer-songwriters from that generation that holds a sense of pride and joy in the Jewish community.
While still in college, King eventually was picked up by Don Kirchner’s label and her tunes were recorded by the top performers of that time. At age of 17, in 1959, King collaborated with Goffin, writing the lyrics and music of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles.
The play also focuses on the friendship King and Goffin made with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The Mann-Weil duo is still going strong. They are also a Jewish couple from Brooklyn which was never acknowledged during the performance. Mann and Weil became a prolific songwriting team in their own right and probably considered to be more successful than King and Goffin when it came to earnings from their songs and records sold.
The play is also a sanitized version of King’s real life. The writers make it appear that King’s 1971 album Tapestry was her first. In fact, her first solo album, Writer, was a commercial disappointment and never mentioned during the play. Tapestry sold more than 25 million units worldwide and won multiple music awards and remained the best-selling album by a female artist for a quarter century. Tapestry was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame® in 1998.
There is plenty of humor during the performance, allowing the play to move along at a reasonable pace. The play ends at the point she divorces Goffin in 1968 and moves to Laurel Canyon, California. She is also seen as no longer being a meek follower and evolving into a woman who begins standing up to people and clearly voices her opinion.
In the end, King gets divorced from Goffin due to his drug habit and infidelity. King is also shown to have an increased confidence in her work and it comes out in her music with pop titles such as Natural Woman, You Just Call Out My Name and It’s Too Late. The 75-year old is the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th Century, having written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1955 and 1999.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was the hit of the 2014 Broadway season and won a Grammy® for Best Musical Theater Album and two Tony awards. In 2015, it opened on London’s West End, garnering two Olivier awards.
Capital Region audiences are also fortunate to have a beautiful performance like this in a beautiful theatre as Proctors. With all the scene changes and proper lighting requirements, a play of this professional magnitude would not have been possible a decade ago. Kudos to Proctors.