There’s no question the Segerstrom Center for the Arts knows how to host a jukebox musical.  Last night’s production of Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, making an encore run for one week only October 9 – 14, was a surefire crowd pleaser.

The packed house was a strong indication of the show’s curbside appeal and theater-crowd hype. I imagine more than half of the (mostly) non-Millennial audience grew up listening to Carole’s music at some point in their lives.  Likewise, my hippie parents injected my childhood with the perfect balance of Carole’s Tapestry; there––I’ve aged myself.

I entered the theater eager to be transported back to my youth.  The stage was set with a grand piano and my high expectations.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the show, I did.  The production offers a fun introduction to the life and music of Carole and her contemporaries, Gerry Goffin (Carole’s first husband and lyricist), Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann.  Still, I craved a deeper investment from the story, execution of songs, and performances.

The book by Tony® and Academy® Award-nominee, Douglas McGrath, is a strait-forward, mostly liner, recounting of the highlights and a few low points in Carole’s life starting and ending with her performance at Carnegie Hall in 1971.   Interspersed throughout the story were the songs you know and love, minus the gut-wrenching, gritty, passion and depth that you so crave when you conjure, Carole King.  I just kept thinking to myself, “Close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there . . .”

c-The-Drifters d-1650-Broadway e-Four-Friends f-Queens-College h-You-ve-Got-a-Friend i-The-Shirelles j-The-Locomotion
Segerstrom Center - Beautiful – The Carole King Musical - 1650 Broadway. (l to r) James Clow (“Don Kirshner”), Dylan S. Wallach (“Gerry Goffin”), Sarah Bockel (“Carole King”), Jacob Heimer (“Barry Mann”) and Alison Whitehurst (“Cynthia Weil”)

Generally speaking, bio-musicals about songwriters don’t often find a use for choreographers.  Fortunately, a vibrant aspect of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical came in the form of clean, cohesive, energetic choreography by Josh Prince.  What the production lacked in inventive blocking, clever set changes, and dazzling performances, the choreography elevated the musical numbers––especially in the Motown vignettes during Act I––and provided an element of bounce that was missing otherwise; proving once again that choreographers are seriously underrated.

The youthful ensemble, all equally skilled as singer-dancers, did a remarkable job of transitioning between various characters with confidence and commitment.

Noteworthy moments came in the musical numbers, “Up on the Roof” performed by the handsome and well-trained Dylan S. Wallach and ensemble; and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” performed by the dynamic, talented, and seasoned Jacob Heimer.  Suzanne Grodner and Alison Whitehurst had charming stage presence and delivered layered, standout performances.

This production does not live up to the years of hype; it’s no replacement for my childhood memories; it’s not going to blow your mind or inspire you to drop everything you’re doing and follow your dreams—the standard by which I hope to leave every performance feeling—but it’s a perfectly safe musical to bring your mom (or a first date) to and bob your head side to side whilst reminiscing. But hey, what do I know? The audience erupted in applause and stood before the curtain call.  While I’m not certain this production was worthy of a standing ovation, the theater nerd (and performer) in me loves the enthusiastic Orange County theater community for loving and supporting musicals.

For more information and ticket information, click here.

Featured image: