By Bill Garry
I was smiling from the minute the curtain opened on Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, now running at the Hollywood Pantages. The show is highly polished, fast-moving, and funny. My smile stayed on throughout the show, but
Beautiful is a colorful confection that is not very deep. Instead of moments of poignancy, empathy, and truth, the show relies on the songwriting of Carol King for almost all of its emotional punctuation.
Maybe it is because Douglas McGrath's book uses a lot of sitcom shorthand (for example, a one-joke mother who only complains about the husband who left her). Maybe it is the fact that the supporting characters had more interesting lines than the star. Maybe it is the "road company" acting (from some, not all, of the cast) and uneven New York accents. But I never felt the star's heartache nor her husband's conflicts.
Sarah Bockel as Carole King delivers the songs with heart, but the New York accent played for laughs? Forgeddaboud it. Dylan S. Wallach, as Gerry Goffin, the aforementioned conflicted husband, emotes, but the book doesn't give us the deep dive we yearn for (that sitcom shorthand, again.) Alison Whitehurst and Jacob Heimer stand out as songwriting team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Their performances as complex human beings give emotional weight to a show that otherwise relies on "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "You've Got a Friend" for tears.
Ensemble members recreate the Drifters, Neil Sedaka, the Shirelles, the Righteous Brothers, and Janelle with smile-inducing renditions of their hits. But only Alexis Tidwell stood out as Little Eva with her energetic, charismatic rendition of 'The Locomotion."
Beautiful left me with a beautiful smile. I just wished the deeper emotions were not "So Far Away."
Beatiful: The Carole King Musical plays at the Hollywood Pantages Theater thru Sep 30.