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Carole King musical’s star a ‘Beautiful’ Broadway jewel | New York Post

THEATER REVIEW. Beautiful — The Carole King Musical. The author of stone-cold boomer classics like “One Fine Day,” “The Loco-Motion” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” pop genius Carole King was a shoo-in for a Broadway jukebox. On Sunday night, it arrived: “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical,” which clearly hopes to score as big as “Jersey Boys” and “Motown.” There’s just one hitch: King had no taste for booze or drugs and wasn’t involved in either mob deals (a la “Jersey Boys”) or sexual shenanigans (“Motown”). Instead, she married her baby-daddy — and musical collaborator — Gerry Goffin when she was 17, toiled 9 to 5 writing songs in a Midtown cubicle, moved to the ’burbs, divorced and achieved personal happiness and solo fame. Her songs may be great, but where’s the drama? The problem is King didn’t have any — something which “Beautiful” handles in two ways. The first is the inspired casting of its star, Jessie Mueller. Though she won accolades for “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and a Tony nod for “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” Mueller’s hardly a household name. But her engaging, moving performance here should make her one. As written by Douglas McGrath, the character is a bit of a doormat: a self-effacing, self-deprecating Brooklyn girl who’s baffled when the tortured Goffin (Jake Epstein) decides he wants an open marriage. But Mueller’s King, who’s onstage almost all the time, is no sap. Instead, this funny music nerd radiates intelligence. Whether she’s a frumpy, late-’50s teen or a hippie in flowing dress for 1971’s “Tapestry” — when the show opens and ends — she always comes across as a gifted artist in love with creating. Mueller sings with aching, honest emotion — stripping all the potential cheesiness out of “You’ve Got a Friend.” The other way “Beautiful” deals with its subject’s lack of histrionics is by playing up Goffin and King’s affectionate rivalry with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil (the terrifically acerbic Anika Larsen) and Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector, last seen as Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys”). Doubling up on couples is a nice idea, and Jeb Brown injects welcome gruff humor as their publisher/producer, Don Kirshner. But the book is often heavy-handed, and Marc Bruni’s production only occasionally resurrects the bubbly verve and energy of those glorious songs. Derek McLane’s bilevel set displays near-industrial practicality, but Brian Ronan’s sound design is mediocre at best. The originals snapped and popped, but here the music feels muffled in cotton. Worse, the producers skimped by using synth strings in the orchestra instead of real ones. Not only does this sound cheap, but there’s actually a plot point about how King wrote her own string arrangements! And yet “Beautiful” also strikes genuine grace notes — thanks to Mueller. When she sings the first lines from “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” the song and the moment feel timeless.
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