I didn't see BEAUTIFUL in New York so was curious about the show when the national tour landed in Chicago. I love Carole King's songs and was of the generation that rushed out to buy TAPESTRY when it came out in the early 70s. In general, I'm not crazy about jukebox musicals. MAMMA MIA was fun because it paired nonsensical songs with an equally nonsensical book and made fun of its own efforts at making the songs fit into a narrative. JERSEY BOYS tried to do some interesting things with the biographical book. The Four Seasons were good musicians but not the most interesting people on the planet. I saw the show in London where the performers playing Frankie Valli and company would never pass as New Jersey Italian-Americans. The book of BEAUTIFUL (Douglas McGrath)--and there's a lot of book--is FUNNY GIRL for the twenty-first century. A very talented sixteen-year-old Jewish girl from Brooklyn has her first hit song and her first child at age sixteen. Gerry Goffin the eighteen-year-old father of the child does the right thing, as they used to say, and marries her. He also becomes her lyricist. They turn out hit after hit but he feels trapped by his life and work and starts having affairs. Eventually she realizes she can go it alone personally and professionally. She also decides to perform her music herself and becomes an even bigger name. There's also a second, comic couple as in the old days of musical comedies. They are also a composer-lyricist team, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The show features their songs as well as the songs of King and Gerry Goffin. The songs range from fun to very good.
As I said, there's a lot of dialogue but also twenty-six songs. There is a basic problem with a musical in which characters spend a lot of time sitting at pianos. In Marc Bruni's production (choreography by Josh Prince), the scenery, including the piano, seems to move more than the performers. The show might work better in the more intimate Stephen Sondheim Theatre in New York. In the cavernous Cadillac Palace Theatre, it cries out for more movement, particularly more dancing. The cast, many of whom had understudied their roles in New York, were able performers but the charisma quotient was very low. In other words, they performed like understudies. I would love to have seen someone with real pizzazz like Jessie Mueller as Carole King. There was a time in the Golden Age when stars headlined national tours of shows. That is virtually nonexistent these days.
It was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. I got a discount ticket, so feelI got my money's worth.