Last night Kish and I hit the Ohio Theatre to see the traveling production of Beautiful, a show that tells the story of the life and music of Carole King that, in the process, sounds larger themes about American music and the ’60s. It’s a terrific production that will be playing at the Ohio through June 11 — although given the packed house on a Wednesday night, I’m not sure any tickets are available if you don’t have them already.
King’s story is a rich one. As a teenager with obvious musical talent, she decided she wanted to be a songwriter, which was not a standard career choice for girls growing up in the ’50s. After selling her first song, she met her future husband, became a wife and mother while still a teenager, and with her husband wrote a series of hits, had an office in a songwriting shop on Broadway, and became friends, and friendly competitors, with another songwriting couple. But while her career is soaring, her marriage became more troubled. After it ended, she headed to California and wrote the songs that made Tapestry a landmark album. The show ends with King back in New York, performing at Carnegie Hall the year Tapestry is released.
The story is told largely through songs — both those written by King and her husband and those written by others — with short bits of dialogue mixed in. It’s fast-paced, funny, and poignant, all at the same time. The staging is amazing, with sets silently sliding in and out and pop acts from the ’50s and ’60s cleverly recreated. And, of course, the music is great. Julia Knitel, who plays Carole King in this production, is a tremendous talent who plays the piano and has the singing and acting chops that are perfect for musical theater.
If you’re going to the show, get there early. Last night the show drew a decidedly older and largely female crowd, and you’ll need plenty of time to steer through the forest of walkers, canes, and slow-moving seniors. But we’ll give them all a break, because we know they all owned a treasured copy of Tapestry that they played over and over until their turntables broke, and when they heard the music again they were transported back to when they heard it the first time, nearly 50 years ago. The intervening 50 years may have made the listeners older, but the music itself remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.