'Beautiful,’ the Musical, Honors Carole King

Graduate Division

Confession: I have never managed to sit through anything longer than two hours without glancing at my watch at least once.  Until now.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is in San Francisco for its pre-Broadway world premiere. The gorgeously arranged “1650 Broadway Medley” sets the scene for King’s early songwriting career in the 1960s, and the rest of the musical biography kept my toes tapping and my heartstrings tugged. 

Tony award-winning Jessie Mueller wins the audience over as the talented but charmingly modest King.  She is believably ingenuous in her depiction of King’s humble entry into the music world and young romance with her musical partner Gerry Goffin, played by Jake Epstein.

Their sweetly rendered love song, “Some Kind of Wonderful,” made the frosty San Francisco evening a little warmer. 

Despite the popular perception of musical theater, however, Beautiful is not all sappy ballads and peppy dance ensembles, and therein lies its strength. Beautiful is grounded in the true story of King’s relationships — with music, with her fellow songwriters and friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and with her restless husband, Goffin.

Although King had a wildly successful music career, penning countless hits for diverse performers before releasing her own breakthrough solo album, Tapestry, her marriage was often troubled.

Her pain over the dissolving relationship is palpable in Mueller’s performance of the bittersweet “One Fine Day,” and it’s heartbreakingly relatable.  

Ultimately, this musical is uplifting but honest, best epitomized by King’s introduction during her Carnegie Hall performance, when she says, “Sometimes, life doesn’t go the way you wanted, but you get something beautiful” anyway.

Beautiful is playing at the SHN Curran Theater through October 20 (and worth a visit to Broadway after that).  It’s a lush performance and, after a long week, a lovely reminder that life is beautiful, even when it’s not.