Beautiful Warms Theatre-Goers On A Blizzardy Night

Photo courtesy of Arly Abramson

It may sound counterintuitive to withstand a Montreal blizzard in order to see the touring company of a Broadway musical, especially when all you want to do is stay inside and keep warm. However, for those who braved the sleet and ice, they were well rewarded. On February 12, Place des Arts welcomed the Tony Award-winning hit, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, for a limited run.

Beautiful tells the story of Carole King (Sarah Bockel) and her rise to fame. In recent years, jukebox musicals have become wildly popular on Broadway and Beautiful is part of the reason why. In a jukebox musical, the story celebrates the musicality of an act or singer, using new renditions of the real artist’s previously recorded songs. The songs are incorporated into the formal musical score and accompanied by choreography and dialogic scenes.

In keeping with this tradition, Beautiful innovatively uses King’s sensational anthems and the chart-topping songs of her collaborators to tell her story. Household favourites like “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” are featured prominently and stir the audience to clap and sing along.

The audience sees her discover herself as a person and a musician, gaining fame with her passionate and honest music…

In two acts, Beautiful chronicles Carole King’s personal and professional journey in the music industry, starting with her first hit at age sixteen, to her Carnegie Hall debut at age 29. In the first act, the musical emphasizes King’s early song writing days, producing work for famous artists in a behind-the-scenes creative role, collaborating as a musician for lyricist Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach). The audience watches Goffin and King’s life evolve as they become romantically involved, become writing partners, and ultimately marry and have children. The audience also meets Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer), Goffin and King’s best friends and biggest competitors.

In the second act, the audience is taken with King as she deals with her difficult relationship with Goffin by leaving him. This act emphasizes her rise as an individual artist, as she writes music about her personal life and realizes that she was truly the person meant to sing the songs. The audience sees her discover herself as a person and a musician, gaining fame with her passionate and honest music for her Grammy award-winning album, Tapestry.

The energy of the cast, even after travelling from Boston and knowing the blizzard raging outside, made for an especially engaging night. Sarah Bockel’s performance as King was passionate and raw. She had the audience so attached to her character’s storyline, that when she delivered her impassioned speech to Goffin to leave him, the audience roared in applause for her as she exited. As a duo, Mann and Weil engaged the audience through their wit and humour. Prominent featured characters such as music producer Don Kirshner (James Clow) and King’s mother, Genie Klein (Suzanne Grodner), were equally charming. And the strength of the ensemble, with their impressive vocals and dancing to portray the famous celebrities of the time, clearly impressed the Montreal audience who thundered with applause after every number.

Beautiful’s jukebox style keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, craving the songs they know and love, and anticipating what is coming in the artist’s oeuvre. The narrative’s ability to capture the nostalgia of the audience sets this show apart from others. Audible gasps from the audience as they heard the intros to songs, quiet singalongs, and dancing heads around the theatre reflected the audience’s emotional connection. While Beautiful works as a musical and terrific stage show, it also captures the individual connections spectators have to Carole King’s timeless musical repertoire.

Beautiful’s jukebox style keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, craving the songs they know and love, and anticipating what is coming in the artist’s oeuvre.

In this vein, what is particularly special about Beautiful is its ability to connect with an audience of people who may not be avid theatre-goers, but who see and support the show because of a love for the life, career, and music of Carole King. What Beautiful does is something, well, beautiful – it opens up the musical theatre world to a new demographic of audience.

I gave my night to Beautiful, and it gave me back an appreciation for Carole King and the music industry. It allowed me to reflect on the beauty of Montreal theatre and how lucky we are to welcome a show like Beautiful into this city.

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