Show Review: “Beautiful” at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre Is Outrageous, Contagious Fun

Still high days later from the highly-anticipated L.A. Premiere of “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”  at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, I want you to understand how excited I am to be writing this recap.

This is the best night of musical theatre -or any theatre- I’ve been to in a decade.  I took my friend Lynn to see it for her birthday and we were both shaking our heads in wonder the whole time, eyes brimming, breath coming in ragged gasps.  This is the stuff of magic.  We were literally grabbing each other’s’ forearms with raw emotion with each new song that was presented. I feel so strongly about this production that I don’t want to say too much, lest I dilute the power of it by letting too many cats out of the bag.  But….

Everything about this production is sheer perfection.  It’s a shiny, sinewy, sly, spectacular thing to behold.  We actually went online during intermission to buy more tickets to see it again because we knew that when the reviews came out, they’ll be impossible to get.  “Beautiful” is L.A.’s “Hamilton,” trust me. The book is by Douglas McGrath (who gives it heart and humor in equal proportions), with scenic design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Alejo Vieti, Lighting by  Peter Kaczorowski and sound design by Brian Ronan. The show is choreographed by Josh Prince and Directed by Marc Bruni. Kudos all around.

Let’s start with the clever device of the story line, which interweaves the competitive song-writing teams of Carole King and Gerry Goffin with that of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, ensuring that the audience gets double the hits for its money. We hear smash after smash as the songwriting couples vie to top each other on the Billboard charts and place their songs with groups like The Shirelles, Little Eva, The Righteous Brothers and The Drifters.

The irresistible Abby Mueller stars as ‘Carole King”, the legendary and groundbreaking singer/songwriter. Amazingly enough, Mueller’s sister, Jessie Mueller, won the Tony Award in 2014 for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of King in the show’s Broadway production. What are the chances that one set of parents gave birth to two of the most gifted actresses on today’s stage who excel in the same role–and is it just a matter of time before we see them perform together in something kind of wonderful?

Mueller is engaging, quirky, down-to-earth, and totally believable in the role of King, and we are on her side from bar one as she sits at the piano and gives us her winsome version of “So Far Away.”  Boom.  She’s got us.  And she never lets us go.

Liam Tobin as Gerry Goffin, King’s writing partner and husband, is a wonder.  His vocals are as strong as his acting, and we feel for him even as his human weaknesses are unveiled. Becky Gulsvig is a riot as lyricist Cynthia Weil and gives one of the night’s sharpest performances.  Ben Fankhauser is all-out hilarious as the hypochondriac songwriter Barry Mann, and is the perfect foil to Goffin’s straight man.

Kudos must be paid to John Michael Dias who delivers a rip-snortingly spot-on Neil Sedaka,  is also one half of The Righteous Brothers, and later morphs into the record guru Lou Adler.  Superb!

And finally—the singer/dancers who make up The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers, and Little Eva deserve special recognition for the fireworks they bring. This show is all about the music, and they inject fire and ice into it in just the right proportions. All vocally gifted, special attention should be paid to Josh A. Dawson who leads the Drifters in the night’s most triumphant performances: “Some Kind Of Wonderful” and “On Broadway.” Utterly thrilling!

The strength of this production is in its diversity and its total immersion into each decade it documents.  If you see one show this season, by all means, this is the one. I mean it when I say, pick up the phone or go online right now if you want to grab tickets, because “Beautiful” is only in L.A. for a limited four-week engagement from June 22 – July 17, 2016 and they’re going faster than a “Locomotion”  headed “Uptown” on a “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

Tickets for BEAUTIFUL – The Carole King Musical are currently on sale to the general public at online at www.HollywoodPantages.com or www.Ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-982-2787. Groups of 10 or more are now available by visiting www.PantagesGroups.com or by calling 866-755-3075. Tickets start at $29.

More from Deborah Howell
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