Review: Beautiful The Carole King Musical at Easton’s State Theatre for the Arts

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.

About the show on Wikipedia.

About the venue.

Opening night of Cats

My daughter has a big love for the musical Cats. I was fortunate enough to see it as a kid with my extended family. I bought the movie of the Broadway play for my daughter when she was small.

She loves Cats. I have a feeling the musician in her loves Andrew Lloyd Webber. Can you be a latent Andrew Lloyd Webber fan? As a musician, my daughter loves musicals and is constantly searching for “beautiful harmonies.”

My backstory with Musicals

My connection with musicals started in middle school. The school offered a field trip every year to New York City to see a musical. My first was The Sound of Music. The show that made the biggest impact on me was Miss Saigon. I still remember that helicopter and my amazement as it came out on stage.

Videos of that helicopter don’t do it justice. The scale and the shock of a helicopter in the theater, especially as a fairly new and young theatre-goer… the impressions still linger in my memory.

I found this video on YouTube about making the helicopter, apparently its designers were overwhelmed too.

The Building of the Miss Saigon helicopter

So I’ve seen a fair number of Broadway shows, though none really of my own choosing. Our middle school music teacher, Mr. Birgenstock, had us listen to a lot of musics oh records in the music room and he gave us the lyric sheets to follow along.

My musical ear is tin, but I still have a large soft spot for musicals. Let me see if I can list the musicals we studied in middle school in the late 1980s:

  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat
  • Chess (still my all-time favorite)
  • Tommy

Nope, can’t remember them. Darn.

Opening night of Cats

So, back to Cats. We had a rough week in this household and our holiday plans keep shifting.

Our evening at the holiday light display at the local zoo fell through and I worked late so I asked the teenager if she wanted to go see Cats. Now she’s made it a point to bring up every possible opportunity to go see Cats for the last week.

I didn’t have to ask. I knew she wanted to see Cats.

We skipped dinner and went straight to the 7:10 show.

They did an amazing job. I didn’t look at the cast before I went so I had a lot of fun asking, “is that Judi Dench?” (She’s one of my favorite actresses. I had my hair cut like hers once. Modeled after M. I think in Casino Royale.) Is that Ian McKellan? (And my daughter: “That’s the girl from Pitch Perfect.”)

The costumes were amazing. The dancers lithe and incredibly feline. The pacing was way better than the Broadway show. And they even added some plot to give it more of a linear story line.

The set was delightful, full of detail and fun cat puns. I felt like I wanted to frolic on those sets. Seeing people scaled down to cat size was a visual treat.

And the music pleased my daughter.

I had to keep shushing her to keep her from belting the songs out with the actors.

Bottom line, if someone you love wants to see Cats and you are hesitant because you’re not a fan, it shouldn’t be a painful experience for you. They did a nice job. It’s also fairly short.

Dinner at Rocco’s

It was about 9:15 when we left the theatre so I stopped at Rocco’s Pizza on the way home.

I spent most of my newspaper career in downtown Phillipsburg so when I saw Rocco’s light on, I knew we had to stop. The teen said it looked kind of creepy on the outside, but she knew to trust me.

I haven’t had much of a social or professional life in the last ten years, so when I told Mike, the owner, that we hadn’t seen each other in a decade he needed some convincing.

He had three slices left and heated them up and we ate them in the car.

Mike, if this makes it to you via the internet or Facebook or Phillipsburg word-of-mouth, you made my daughter very happy.

“I haven’t had real pizza in ages. This isn’t even greasy,” she said.

“Mom, this pizza is the sh*t.”