by Beki Pineda
BEAUTIFUL – Book by Douglas McGrath; Words and Music by Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Directed by Marc Bruni. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through September 9. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
This is the second time that BEAUTIFUL has swung through Denver and several friends who had the good fortune to see it the first time remarked to me that it wasn’t your typical “this is the music of . . . ” sort of show. And they were right. This IS a show that celebrates the music of the 50’s and 60’s but it also tells the life story of the two couples who contributed so greatly to that era in American music.
It’s no sweetness and light tale. They do not sugarcoat the strain of cranking out songs on demand, of competing for contracts with your best friends, of trying to maintain a relationship with the temptations of celebrity. While it is primarily Carole’s story involving her feisty mother and her troubled marriage, it is more than that. Tin Pan Alley had faded by the 50’s to be replaced by the Brill Building, a gathering place for ambitious composers and lyricists. Its eleven floors housed some of the most prolific and iconic music makers of the next three decades. BEAUTIFUL illustrates their lifestyle and struggles to make it in a world that thrived on the next new thing.
The four leads were well cast; their stage presence and singing voices made the show rock. Sarah Bockel, a Chicago girl, was performing in Grand Lake at Rocky Mountain Rep only four short years ago. Now look at her – nailing the lead in a Broadway touring show. All you struggling singer/actresses out there, take heart!! It does happen. Ms. Bockel as Carole King (who confesses to being an untrained singer) brings an authentic quality to her early work, only mellowing into the King we know today in the later songs – “You’ve Got a Friend,” “A Natural Woman,” and “Beautiful.” Plus she looks amazingly like King as well. Her husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin, was acted by Dylan S. Wallach and took the brunt as the cause of the breakup of their marriage. The other prolific duo of songwriters, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, were played with great charm by Alison Whitehurst and Jacob Heimer. You could count on them to bring the humor back to the surface.
The extremely talented ensemble doubled as back up singers and took the lead singer roles on various songs written by these teams. So we got an encyclopedic look at the music of the times by visiting with Neil Sedaka, The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva (their babysitter!), and the Righteous Brothers. It’s surprising how many of the successful songs of the day came from these four people.
In town for only a short run, you’ll be sorry if you miss this one.
A WOW factor of 9!