While the name Carole King may not be immediately familiar, chances are you’ve listened to her music. From working as a songwriter at the music publishing house 1650 Broadway to having her album “Tapestry” top the charts, Carol King’s shoot to stardom was nothing if not extraordinary.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” opened on Broadway to success and acclaim in 2013. The show was nominated for seven Tonys, ultimately snagging actress Jessie Mueller her first win for her performance in the title role. Now on tour, “Beautiful” is currently running at Salt Lake City’s new Eccles Theatre.
“Beautiful” follows King’s journey, beginning at age sixteen, when she sold her first song. The musical also contextualizes the music industry, providing background into other popular hits and artists during the time of King’s greatest work.
The strength of “Beautiful” rests primarily on the power of the music. This includes pieces written by King and her partner, Gerry Goffin, in addition to numbers by other writers used to illustrate each era. Over the course of the evening, the audience is taken through the Fifties up through King’s performance at Carnegie Hall in 1971. The musical does an excellent job of bringing the audience up to speed on the various sounds and styles of each era, including time-accurate costumes and relevant choreography that aid in the storytelling. Its fluid and seamless transitions made made it easier to focus on the show’s character arcs. When it comes to King’s story, even without knowing much about her upon arrival, audiences find familiar songs to catch their ear. Popular hits like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “The Locomotion” make appearances, and songs like “Stupid Cupid,” “Love Potion #9” and “Splish Splash” come together in the “1650 Broadway” medley. Perhaps the most emotional numbers come from King’s own work, including “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “I Feel the Earth Move” and, of course, “Beautiful.” Whether this is your first time experiencing this music or her soundtracks are familiar favorites, the performance is sure to have you tapping your toes and humming along.
The cast, led by Julia Knitel as Carole King, fill the entire auditorium with energy that you can feel all the way up to the third tier. Knitel does an excellent job in her portrayal, managing to capture both the power and confidence of the successful songwriter with the anxiety and self-doubt of the reluctant star. Liam Tobin, who plays songwriting partner and husband Gerry Goffin, sparks a certain amount of sympathy for his character, despite the fact that his relationship with King did not end well. Erika Olson and Ben Fankhauser, who play lyricist Cynthia Weil and composer Barry Mann respectively, use their parts to charm the crowd with their playful and complicated romance that parallels that of Goffin and King.
“Beautiful” opened at the Eccles Theatre on Nov. 15 and runs through Nov. 20. Tickets are still available, and can be purchased either in person at the Eccles box office or online at https://artsaltlake.org/production/beautiful/.