“Beautiful,” the story of how Carole King went from a 16-year-old aspiring songwriter to the Grammy winning singer songwriter of the “Tapestry” album, truly is beautiful. In fact, it’s one of the best productions that has come through Bass Concert Hall and Broadway in Austin.
This production did not suffer the sound problems that have plagued other Broadway in Austin productions in this theater. That’s a very good thing because this musical is smart, witty, rocking and soulful — things that would have been missed if the audience could not have heard the lyrics or the smart quips that get exchanged.
Often when you see Broadway in Austin productions, you feel like you’re getting Broadway, but not quite on the same level. Having seen this musical on Broadway before it won two Tonys, it is every bit as good here as it was there, except it feels bigger in this larger space.
Julia Knitel as Carole King has her voice in both song and speech. She captivates when she sings, but she also draws in your attention in the quiet moments of heartache that were King’s years married to her lyricist Gerry Goffin. In our performance, Goffin was played by Andrew Brewer, who did not miss a beat stepping into this role. Sometimes when you get an understudy, the performance feels serviceable, but the chemistry is not quite right. That wasn’t the case here.
Also strong in this performance are the King-Goffin rivals and and friends: Erika Olson as Cynthia Weil and Ben Fankhauser as Barry Mann. She is smart and sophisticated in a way that Carole King envies and could never pull off. He is nerdy and anxiety-filled in a way that Goffin never appears to be, but truly is. Both couples do a great job mirroring each other.
The magic of the musical is the music. Hit after hit written by King and Goffin and Weil and Mann are unveiled as we see how these songs came to be. We see the songwriters pour over each note and lyric and then we see the singers like Janelle Woods, Little Eva, the Righteous Brothers, the Shirelles and the Drifters sing them.
They had the audience rocking with them and trying really hard not to sing along. The audience was boisterous at times, especially when King finally stood up for herself with Goffin. Knitel had brought them with her every step of the way.
After the show, audience member after audience member turned to their friends and said loudly how much fun that was, how much they loved the music. They shared stories of first hearing a King-Goffin song or a Weil-Mann song.
If you grew up listening to King’s music, even if you didn’t know it was hers, this musical is for you.
“Beautiful.” 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday. $35-$150. Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive. texasperformingarts.org.