In their day, King (classically trained pianist and lyricist) and Goffin (lyricist) made a lucrative living penning music and lyrics for some of the most popular bands on the charts and created some of the most memorable hits to come out of that era. Their music enhanced and enriched the careers of iconic performers from The Drifters(Up On the Roof) to The Monkees(Pleasant Valley Sunday), Aretha Franklin(Natural Woman) to Dusty Springfield(Some of Your Lovin’).
We travel with her from the age of 16, when she sells her first song to record producer Don Kirshner, to her solo performance at Carnegie Hall in 1971. The list of musical accomplishments is astonishing as we move from one hit to the next (Will you Love Me Tomorrow - for the Shirelles, The Loco-Motion - for Little Eva, to name only two). Judging from the liveliness of the audience there was a sizable portion that were familiar with the music, but there were several occasions, peppered with gasps of awe, where it was clear they were only now discovering the true authorship of the tunes. “She wrote that?” Devine!
We move from King’s home to the studio, where she works with Goffin, to the clubs where their music is played. We see King’s and Goffin’s life together form and grow as their careers flourish, and then crumble around them as they grow apart. The personal story is not an extraordinary one (It’s nothing like the exercise in perseverance that is Frankie Valli): in this rendition Goffin is not an asshole, King isn’t taken advantage of by greedy record executives nor does she sabotage her livelihood. This story is all about the music. The personal stuff is more of a thread through the tapestry of King’s journey, this visual version of her iconic album.
The set design if fluid and operative, blending and switching sets with minimal effort. It’s worth noting this as an ineffective set transition can pop you right out of the moment. The song performance choreography is worth noting as well for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was well designed and orchestrated. It often rode the tail of a previous scene, which gave the action a more immediate sense of time travel back to the era. Secondly, it was a brilliant reminder of how something simple and clean can have such a profound visual/emotional impact. How could you not love a song that was coupled with smooth precision moves? Bruno Mars anyone?
The writing is pretty good too. King is given a few catchy one-liners. My favourite in the entire show has to be early on when King addresses her perception of the shape of her body with, “I have the right amount, it’s just not organized properly.” King’s mom delivers a few good ones too and Mann finds a delightful balance between anxiety and stability. Goffin makes us love him through his betrayals and Weil is planted solid and strong. The record executive Don Kirschner is a little nice for what we typically understand of record execs but the show isn’t about him. It’s about an extremely gifted ordinary woman doing extraordinary things.
King’s career is enormous, stretching from the late 50s to present day and this show covers but one slice of the musical pie. She has had so many hit songs it would be impossible to cover them all in one evening. Still, BEAUTIFUL is a show that offers a glance into the life of a remarkable songwriter and is sure to delight audiences of all ages. If you have a chance before the show, be sure to check out King’s album Tapestry. It is a must listen to treasure that is sure to make your experience with the show all that more pleasant.
Click HERE for a link to tickets.