Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 West 43rd St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 5, $75 - $252
Theatergoers are in for treat after treat as the hits just keep on coming in the first act of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Rising star Jessie Mueller (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) excels in the role of Manhattan-born, Brooklyn-raised Carole Klein, beginning as the teen dreams of becoming a successful songwriter (and changes her last name to King). That dream becomes a reality when she meets lyricist Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein) at Queens College and soon the two have an office on Broadway, where they work for Don Kirshner (Jeb Brown), composing hit songs for such popular groups as the Drifters, the Shirelles, and others. The musical, directed by Marc Bruni (Old Jews Telling Jokes, The Explorers Club) and with a book by playwright and filmmaker Douglas McGrath (Bullets over Broadway, Infamous), soars as Goffin and King do battle with office neighbors Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector) and Cynthia Weil (Anika Larsen), competing over which team can top the Billboard charts more often. Derek McLane’s dazzling multilevel set feeds the Brill Building-era frenzy with nonstop action; the focus and the set narrow down when the talented ensemble performs full versions of songs the audience just watched Goffin/King or Mann/Weil put together, bringing their exacting craft to lovely life in scenes appealingly choreographed by Josh Prince.
Unfortunately, the second act is pretty much a bore, as Goffin and King suffer through marital problems and move to the suburbs as the audience waits and waits for the plot to finally get to King’s breakout masterpiece, Tapestry, but by the time it arrives, it’s too late, baby, it’s just too late. But that thrilling first act makes it all worthwhile, succeeding where such other jukebox musicals as Motown and A Night with Janis Joplin fail, combining a compelling (mostly true) story with electrifying music. The charming cast is led by engaging performances by Epstein, Larsen, Spector, and especially, of course, Mueller, who make palpable the excitement of creating a hit song, while Brown wonderfully captures Kirshner’s nuttiness running his musical asylum. Do yourself a favor and don’t read up on the hits that Goffin/King and Mann/Weil wrote, and skip the page in the Playbill that lists all the tunes in the show, because no matter how much you think you know about the songs, you’ll be surprised by the two duos’ vast, diverse catalog.