This is what MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL should have been.
Carole King’s story, humbly told in BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING STORY, is one of sweet success, raw talent, with a large dose of normality. And it made me want to go home and play my keyboard.
Anytime a piece of art inspires me in that way, I know its good. BEAUTIFUL is better than good; it’s great, and largely thanks to the stellar cast of this national tour. The actors who portray real life songwriters like Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and of course, Carole King, are engaging and talented. Not only do they find the humor in their characters, they feel like real people who just happen to have unusual jobs. Liam Tobin (“Goffin”) is handsome and dark and is the closest thing to a villain this show has. Ben Fankhauser (“Mann”) and Erika Olson (“Weil”) are likable competitors to the leading couple. But it is the glorious performance of Julia Knitel as Carole King that makes this show in the running for best of the bunch at the Aronoff this season.
Knitel plays Carol from a teenager to her performance at Carnegie Hall and it just seems so . . natural. Her character arc, her pain and long-suffering, are so relatable its no wonder her songs have stood the test of time. I’ve never heard an audience respond to a scene of dialogue with rousing applause like they did when she finally set a boundary with her cheating husband; what a likable actress playing a likable real life character!
Oh, and the music’s pretty fantastic, too. So many hits populate this show and the opening night audience was bobbing their heads and in some cases singing along. It’s a feel-good production, despite the domestic drama. I really can’t recommend it strongly enough.
If I can find the time, I might go back and see it again.
BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL runs through May 14th at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati. Tickets and more information can be found here.