Arts & CultureBlogCulture Briefs

Live Review: Beautiful Musical Celebrates Carole King’s Legacy

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Everyone knows Carole King’s music, even if they don’t know they know Carole King’s music. The critically acclaimed songwriter wrote (with her then-husband Gerry Goffin) her first No. 1 hit at age 17—“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” famously sung by The Shirelles. Her repertoire from the 1960s and ’70s is full of hits like “Some Kind of Wonderful” by The Drifters, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin, “Chains” by The Beatles and more. It wasn’t until 1971 that King released a full album, Tapestry, of songs written and performed by herself.

Written by Douglas McGrath and directed by Marc Bruni, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical has been making its way through the nation, and luckily, it ended up in Athens at the Classic Center on Monday.

The Broadway touring cast, led by Kennedy Caughell as King, put on a show that was absolutely unforgettable. Since 2014, Beautiful has been making its mark on audiences everywhere, giving people a look into the 1960 and ’70s hits we all know, as well as a surprising revelation about who King really is and a sense of what female empowerment looked like for that generation. 

Opening with a ballad from Caughell, the musical settled into the sequence of events that led to King’s great success. Starting with a look into her relationship with her mother and continuing on to her relationship with Goffin and getting pregnant as a teenager, to the process of writing all those hits and meeting longtime friends and fellow writers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, to her second child and divorce with Goffin and finally ending with the wild success of Tapestry and a performance at Carnegie Hall, Beautiful is a wonderful journey through King’s life. 

Set designer Derek McLane knew what he was doing when constructing the ever-changing and evolving core of the production. The cast and story are what people come to see, but without the well-thought-out design, the show wouldn’t go on as it did. Changing from a living room to a New York music office to a high school to a recording studio, Beautiful filled the Classic Center stage perfectly, making the audience sure of what area of King’s life they were looking into throughout the show.

It’s also no surprise that Brian Ronan received a Tony Award for Best Sound Design for the production, as every sound in the show was purposeful and full of soul—a necessary trait for all things Carole King. Not a beat was missed, and every cast member sang with everything they had.

The jukebox musical was well received by Athens, considering the full crowd and obvious excitement throughout the room. Much of the demographic was that of those who grew up watching and listening to King’s work, with some newcomers mixed into the crowd. My next-seat neighbor Barbara sang along to almost every song in the show, as did others in the room (including me). Seeing such reactions filled me with joy, but also a bit of jealousy, since I didn’t get to grow up watching King. Yet her legacy continues to make an impact, and younger people are still discovering her many works of, and it gives me a little hope that maybe “It’s Not Too Late” for this generation. 

The show ended with a tear-jerking performance of King’s “Beautiful,” with only Caughell and a grand piano on stage, followed by an upbeat curtain call of “I Feel the Earth Move.”