‘Beautiful, The Carol King Story’ Review

i Barry and Cynthia

Barry and Cynthia. Ben Fankhauser (“Barry Mann”) and Becky Gulsvig (“Cynthia Weil”) Photo by Joan Marcus

I grew up listening to the music of Carol King.  She created over sixty hit records during her impressive five plus decade songwriting career.  She wrote songs for some of the greatest artists in pop, rock and R&B including Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, and James Taylor as well as herself.  Young artists to this day dream of working with her.  I was stoked when I saw Beautiful, The Carol King Story, was coming to the Fox Theatre (now through May 29).

While I enjoyed the show, I left with the feeling that something was just…off.  It just did not quite live up to the music it represented.

My favorite part of the show was the story – particularly the friendship Carol (Abby Mueller) and her first husband Gerry, (Andrew Brewer) developed with another songwriting couple – Cynthia (Becky Gulsvig) and Barry Mann (Ben Frankhauser).  Cynthia was very witty and fun to watch.  I was also impressed about how sympathetically Gerry was portrayed even as he hurt his family as he wrestled his demons.

When I think of Carol King, it is after her divorce in the 1970’s during her hippie chick days.  It was astonishing to see her as a 1950’s housefrau.  It reminded me of a Stepford Wife.  And this is the woman who wrote, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman?!   It boggles the mind.

m The Shirelles

The Shirelles. (l to r) Britney Coleman, Rebecca E. Covington, Ashley Blanchet and Salisha Thomas Photo by Joan Marcus

Less impressive were some of the musical performances.  Most of the performers sang pop and R&B in a Broadway style that just didn’t work.  Also, 1960’s R&B groups were renowned for their synchronized dancing and it was a big miss during the show – their timing was just off.  Abbey Mueller played Carol King with a heavy Brooklyn accent, which is probably accurate – but it sounded godawful when she sang with it…Oy!   I went back and listened to some of Carol King’s performances and there was no trace of the accent.  Where did that come from?

Overall, it was a pleasant show – fast paced, fun, witty and moving, just missing the element that makes it magical.   If you go, stick around for the singalong after the performers take their bows.  It’s a blast.

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