Occasionally we like to look back at the careers of performers who have meant a lot to us. Sometimes they themselves get into the act, like Leslie Uggams’ fabulous autobiographical cabaret at Cap Rep a few years ago, or Garrison Keillor’s 2016 farewell tour. Or we flock to tribute concerts, like those of Elvis and Cher impersonators. And then there are the jukebox musicals, such as “Forever Plaid,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and “Jersey Boys,” all of which showcase the music of a time in our lives gone by.
To that last group, add “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” in a stunning national touring production at Proctors. For Albany High School ’63 classmate Marsha and me it was back to the early ‘60s, when King (Julia Knitel) and her husband, Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) were cranking out pop hits in the famous creative think tank on Broadway, the Brill Building. Overseen by record producer Don Kirshner (James Clow), young songwriting teams wrote three-minute stories of teen romance for groups like The Drifters, The Shirelles and The Righteous Brothers. Remember “One Fine Day,” “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Up on the Roof”? Sure, you do.
Douglas McGrath’s Tony-nominated book for the show wisely doesn’t try to cover King’s whole life, which might have descended into a “And-then-I-did-this” format; instead, we first meet Carole as a smart 16-year-old, living with her mother, Genie Klein (a delightful Alaina Mills), in Manhattan, eager to become a composer. And the story ends just 13 years later.
The production is all bright lights and well-oiled machinery. The sets roll on and off; the pit band, under Susan Draus’ direction, subtly enhances the onstage music-making great arrangements by Steve Sidwell and Jason Howland; the African-American singing groups brilliantly execute the familiar tunes and choreography (Josh Prince); and Alejo Vietti’s costumes aptly evoke the changing times (wait — we used to wear that?).
Clow’s Kirshner is a man on a money-making mission, but quite likable — not a user. As another famous song-writing team, Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann, Erika Olson and Ben Fankhauser brilliantly power through their vocals (his “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” blows the roof off); create intimate scenes with a look, a touch, a spot-on line-reading; and provide humor as a foil to King & Goffin’s angst.
Tobin displays a terrific voice in numbers big and small, and his readings of “Up on the Roof” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” reveal a tortured guy chasing dreams.
As Knitel said to The Daily Gazette’s feature writer Bill Buell, "They don't want us to do an impersonation, but vocally, if you just do a hint of Carole the audience loves it and everything falls into place.” Boy, does it ever. Knitel IS the teen bride, and the young woman with extraordinary musical chops, and the stand-by-her-philandering-man 20-something experiencing the heartache she often merely wrote about, and the brave 29-year-old who produces her break-through solo album, “Tapestry.” Wow!
Oh, and a deep bow to director Mark Bruni for mounting the whole thing:
"Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.
WHEN: Through Sunday, Apr. 16
HOW MUCH: $100-$20
MORE INFO: 346.6204, or proctors.org