Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Carole King musical Beautiful has one trick but it's a damned good one

The script of Beautiful, the musical based in the songs of Carole King, her first husband Gerry Goffin and their friends and rivals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, reminded me of the tongue in cheek captions Mark Ellen and I once wrote to accompany the stories of the Human League and Shakin Stevens in the Smash Hits Yearbooks, so relentless is its commitment to exposition.

"This guy Dylan is making us seem so dated."
"There's this band called the Monkees".
"The dance crazes are still going strong. Couldn't you write a dance song?"

However if you want a jukebox musical then you'd best pick one where the jukebox is stocked with quality and nothing but quality. As a drama Beautiful relies on only one trick but it's a damned good one. Every song is introduced as a work in progress. The lead sheet is set out on the top of the piano, a couple of chords are picked out and there then follows an opening line which is written on everybody's soul.

"Tonight you're mine, completely..."

"What should I write? What can I say? How can I tell you how much I miss you?"

"You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips...."

"When you're down and troubled and you need a helping hand...."

"Everybody's doing a brand new dance now."

You can feel the same thought rippling down the row of seats. What, this one as well? I went with my daughter who simply couldn't believe that all these songs, which, of course, are every bit as familiar to her as they are to the people who lived through them, had come from this handful of people.

Is it corny? Yes, of course it is, but it's also true to King's story between the 50s and early 70s; there are points at which they must have been tempted to bend the facts to fit the requirements of drama but they've resisted, for which they should be given points.

The script is Gerry Goffin complaining that you can't possibly say anything meaningful in three minutes.

The music is Carole King proving again and again that you can.


  1. I have the highest regard for the work of Goffin and King, but from what I know, which ain't much, Gerry Goffin was (almost)always complaining; and never really understood the quality of his own work.
    According to Ken Emerson in the book "Always Magic In The Air," he was very brassed off when King and Howard Greenfield knocked out "Crying In The Rain" in half an afternoon. King and Greenfield never collaborated again.

  2. I'm wading through Carole's memoir at the moment and trying to sift the insight about her music out of the mundane 'looking after kids-choosing bad husbands' monologue.

    If the musical does better than that, I'm in.

  3. I've tried to read her book and skipped tons.
    I found it stultifyngly dull (tautology?) largely for the reasons mentioned by Mister Heatley.