It is possible to have a wonderful time at a musical, be wowed by the performances and the theatricality of the production, but not like the play. That’s what the experience of watching ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ felt like for me. Atlantis Theatricals’ production did a great job at putting together a wonderful show, but the play, as written by Douglas McGrath, doesn’t quite create an emotional resonant narrative that adds any profound depth into the events of Carole King’s life.
As a show, it’s a wonderful showcase of great and timeless songs performed wonderfully by an excellent cast lead by Kayla Rivera. It’s a walkthrough musical of genres and styles; a sort of musical history lesson of the pop hits of the 60s leading up to Carole King’s transition from hit songwriter to becoming a recording artist in her own right. The script is funny and the cast has great comedic timing, landing all the punchlines, while still pushing whatever dramatic energy the play can form with the very little that there is in the material.
Because the biggest challenge that director Bobby Garcia has with ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is that the play never actually dramatises the narrative conflicts. The story details Carole’s (Kayla Rivera) partnership with songwriter Gerry Goffin (Nikki Varricchio), whom she meets at 16 and writes songs with him until she gets pregnant and they get married at an early age. Through the years, they write hit song after hit song, fueled by a friendly rivalry with songwriters Cynthia Weil (Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante) and Barry Mann (George Schulze). Carole and Gerry have challenges with their relationship.
At the same time, the play also attempts to highlight Carole’s fear of performing; she’s comfortable just writing songs for other people.
These two aspects seem to be the most prominent story turns for Carole’s journey, but the script seems to do a better job at highlighting their success as songwriters, and surprisingly, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann’s relationship. In act one, the character turning points of Cynthia and Barry are more evident than that of Gerry and Carole. And Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and George Schulze’s performance is so strong that it reaches all the way to the back where I was seated.
Kayla Rivera’s Carole King is overshadowed narratively until a show stopping act one finale. I’m not sure if its a script flaw or a performance issue, but Carole doesn’t feel like the lead of her own play until that act one finale. But Kayla Rivera does bring it on the second act when she truly asserts herself as Carole gets through the more messier aspect of her life and she makes the move towards writing her own songs.
But while the whole production takes great joy in delivering wonderful numbers -- from a huge ensemble that includes Jill Pena, Gabriela Pangilinan, Maronne Cruz, Teetin Villanueva, Gabby Padilla, Tim Pavino, Arman Ferrer, Markus Mann, Jep Go, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Dean Rosen, Carla Guevara Laforteza, Jamie Wilson, Alex Reyes, and Nelsito Gomez -- the play itself fails to actualise the emotional power of this story.
The resolution between Carole and Gerry’s marital problems happens in one short scene and reinforced by a quick dialogue between Carole and Cynthia, and then we move on to Carole writing an album and deciding it was time to sing her own songs. These are huge character moments and they are written as throw away lines that quickly lead to another great Carole King song.
And that’s quite a lot of misgivings but it does not detract the show from being such an amazing time at the theater. The songs of Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann, and the other songs featured in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King musical’ are truly gorgeous, timeless classics. They are performed excellently with a fantastic orchestra directed by Farley Asuncion.
It’s a great show that’s fun and really presents the wealth of beautiful songs of that era. I would watch it again just for the songs and the performances, really.
'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' runs at the Meralco Theater, Pasig City until July 7, 2019. For tickets, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph or call 891-9999.