The national touring production of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” the Broadway hit that showcases the songs and life of that legendary singer-songwriter, rolled into Bass Hall on Tuesday, and promises to be a hot ticket during its six-day, eight-performance run.
There are a number of reasons for the success of this show, which opened its current run in early 2014. It didn’t hurt, for example, that the actress originating the role of King on Broadway, Jessie Mueller, won a Tony for best actress in a lead role in a musical.
The songs, however, are what matter most in this touring version of the show. “Beautiful” is ultimately a jukebox musical — a greatest-hits album with biographical notes.
But within the margins of those numbers lies a fair share of drama, heartbreak and even a little humor, thanks to the show’s book by Douglas McGrath. And the songs chosen from the extensive catalog of hits by King, her then-husband, Gerry Goffin, and a few other songwriters of their era, not only have to entertain in their own right (no problem there), but they also have to carry the show’s abundant emotional elements, explain its characters and tell its story.
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Here is a look at a handful of tunes that do the best job of unveiling the inner thoughts, joys and fears of the show’s principals, while also moving the plot along (and one that doesn’t quite make that cut).
“Some Kind of Wonderful” — This 1961 composition is not as well-known as many of the classics in this show, but it frames a pivotal moment in the lives of the main characters. It is used to show Goffin and King bonding first as a songwriting team and then as a couple. It makes the point that forming a successful team of tunesmiths is as tricky and challenging as making a good marriage.
“On Broadway” — This is one of the few numbers not composed by Goffin-King. Instead, it is one of the many hits by the pair’s friends and rivals, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, along with the famous songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. In this Performing Arts Fort Worth presentation, Mann and Weil are played by Jacob Heimer and Sarah Goeke, two outstanding performers who combine to steal the show. The song was recorded by several groups, but the Drifters’ version, which includes future “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector as a session guitarist, is the best known. It is one of the real showstoppers in “Beautiful.” And it also makes the somewhat surprising point that Mann and Weil were probably writing a more sophisticated brand of pop music than the Goffin-King team.
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” — This is a song that many listeners do not immediately associate with Goffin-King. But this 1967 bit of suburban rage was one of the many hits churned out by the Monkees during their miraculous late-1960s run. The song burns with bitterness while lamenting the claustrophobia of extreme comfort. In “Beautiful,” it captures the tormented soul of Goffin, who seems to be screaming that he is dying in a picket-fenced prison while no one hears his pleas for help. Few stage subjects have ever been so thoroughly revealed and explained in such a compact fashion.
“You’ve Got a Friend” — This song from King’s 1971 breakthrough solo album, “Tapestry,” was a huge hit for both its composer and her friend James Taylor (who plays guitar and sings backup on King’s version). In this show, it carries a particularly sweet moment when King has decided to leave New York and her marriage behind to head for an incredible renaissance in Southern California. She uses the tune to bid a fond farewell to her dear friends Mann and Weil in one of the show’s most touching scenes.
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — Another “Tapestry” fave, credited to Goffin, King and Jerry Wexler, this is one of the shining examples of King’s ability to make a female point of view work in the male dominated world of rock music. It stands out in this production because it is one of the better efforts by Sarah Bockel as King.
Finally, one of the few songs that does not work in this show is its title number. While “Beautiful” might be a great adjective to sum up King’s career, it is not one of her true hits. It is placed as the last song in the show (before an encore) and, unfortunately, does not make for a strong finish.