At least 27 songs and countless wig and costume changes keep “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical,” clipping through one of the most memorable eras of American music.
This is the first of the national Broadway tours to play at the new lavish Eccles Theater. Much ado was paid to the ease of loading the Broadway musical into the theater through snazzy new loading docks (something Capitol Theatre lacked). The theater also showcased fun photo-ops, food and drink options and plenty of bathroom stalls. Currently, however, there are no seat cushions for younger, smaller patrons.
The sound mix during the Tuesday night opening performance was not always perfect as there were times the orchestration, part-live music and part-electronic music, was louder than the singing. Some of the songs felt too loud but others just right. This could be a combination of a new show in a new space and may likely correct itself.
Location aside, those from King’s era, primarily the ′60s and ′70s, will likely enjoy this production. Careful attention was given to costuming (by Alejo Vietti), wigs (by Charles G. LaPointe) and set design (by Derek McLane), and it’s sure to bring back strong memories, not only of King’s music but also of many of the other doo-wop sounds from the time.
“Beautiful” begins with the refined singer-songwriter at the piano for her 1971 Carnegie Hall debut performance, then hops back to a 16-year-old King heading into the city to try to sell one of her songs, against her mother’s wishes.
The show dances through major chart toppers — of which there were plenty — both by the hand of King and her then-husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin, plus numerous others including Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, Neil Sedaka and more.
“So Far Away,” “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” “Who Put the Bomp,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day,” “Up on the Roof,” “On Broadway” and at least 20 more well-known favorites are included. Anyone who loves this music will love the show.
The heft of selling such great music rides on the shoulders of the performers in this touring company. Heading the charge is Julia Knitel in the role of King. Knitel, who was also in the Broadway production, does a commendable job as King. She’s spunky and earnest, yet insecure and doubtful, and provides a nice portrayal of the young King, who was unsure of her relationship and talent. Knitel also belts out King’s tunes with depth and ease.
Knitel is surrounded by equally talented co-stars: Liam Tobin as the confident, flawed Goffin, and their writing colleagues, Erika Olson as Weil and Ben Fankhauser as Mann, who are both playful and engaging with beautiful singing voices.
The rest of the ensemble cast is terrific through numerous, quick costume changes and portrayals of everyone from The Righteous Brothers to The Shirelles to The Drifters.
The audience on opening night chatted all through intermission about “how great” this music is, which serves as a true look back at one of America’s most memorable musical chapters.
Content advisory: The show contains some drinking and smoking, a scene of a man and a woman kissing passionately and a brief game of strip poker, but no nudity is shown.
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."