I ordered tickets for several shows at The State Theatre this fall, because they will be hosting a touring production of Hairspray in April. I bought those tickets for the teenager for Christmas.
And yes, she found out when we went to see Postmodern Jukebox at the State. When she saw the advertisements for Hairspray she got excited and I couldn’t keep the secret.
I was introduced to Carole King via my mother’s records. I used to listen to Tapestry as much as I listened to George Carlin, the Beatles’ Abbey Road and some other classics that predate me.
I also fell in love with Crystal Gayle, but that was from my mother’s eight-track collection. Click. I realize eight-tracks were a necessary technological step to get to more portable versions of recorded music, but man were they awkward.
So as a young adult I bought the compact disc of Tapestry and if I didn’t already know every word on the album I certainly learned them. It’s an anthem for a woman’s early life. A guidebook for love, lust and heartache.
My friend Nan— if you’re familiar with my blog, yes, she is the blind friend— is a huge music fan and a musician herself having played much piano in her youth.
So obviously she wanted to see the show and I wanted to see the show. Neither of us knew anything about the show. And I didn’t do any research other than to buy tickets as I already knew I was a Carole King fan and that is all the motivation I needed.
Now, despite my career as a journalist, my first bachelors from what is now Moravian University is in English Language and Literature. Now although the paper says that, I took 3/4 of my classes in the theatre department because my favorite professor taught there. I also performed in high school and college theatre, and served as stage manager and box office manager because I enjoyed those overarching and connective aspects of performance.
And I always forget this fact until I step in a theatre.
This is why Nan and I are a good pair. I’m tone deaf to music. If I can tell music is bad, it’s really bad.
That said— everything about this show was astounding. I have learned since last night that this is a jukebox musical, one that probably can be compared to the Elton John Rocketman movie that also featured multiple musical numbers. In Rocketman, the musical numbers are fantastical journeys into Elton John’s head which really don’t make any rational sense. And because of Elton John’s multiple addictions, Rocketman was very dark.
By contrast, Beautiful is wholesome and uplifting.
The show highlights the struggle of Carole King’s early song writing life and the imperfections of her marriage, one that occurred when she was just a teenager. Even these difficulties are addressed with compassion and humanity.
And in every song, the audience sees how real life inspired the music.
The performers— an ensemble cast of about 20 with five of them as the main characters: Carole, her husband Gerry, their friends and coworkers Barry and Cynthia, and their boss, Donnie (who bought Carole’s first song when she was 16, in 1958)— sang and danced with such vibrancy, talent and skill that Nan said they were better than the real stars.
The Drifters. The Shirelles. Little Eva. Janelle Woods. The Righteous Brothers.
But in addition to spectacular music and a solid book, the staging was magnificent and the costumes incredible. The clothing and the hairstyles perfectly represented the eras and the changing fads but also showed the growth of the characters. We see Carole progress from dowdy clothes to stylish ones as her songs hit #1 and her trademark curls mutate into classic 1960s updos. But after her divorce, her curls return and her clothes become easygoing but chic. You can feel the weight lifted off her.
And the simple sets are also well executed. Each location has a key piece of furniture. The offices and homes are represented my period perfect couches and desks— so when a character comes on stage with that couch the vibe is set for that particular place. I love minimalist staging.
The whole performance was breathtaking and will leave me walking on clouds today.
Funniest part of the night: when an usher shined a flashlight on an obstruction on the floor so Nan could see it.