Sarah Bockel as Carole King in “Beautiful” at Ogunquit Playhouse. Photo by Gary Ng

“She wrote all those other songs, too!” was a common refrain heard among music fans shortly after Carole King’s superb 1971 album “Tapestry” catapulted her to fame.

People who wondered how this extraordinarily talented singer-songwriter seemed to just suddenly appear out of nowhere soon learned that, though she was not quite 30 years old, King was already a music business veteran who had written or co-written many of the greatest hit songs of the previous decade, all to be performed by others.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” now in its regional premiere run at the Ogunquit Playhouse, offers a bit of detail (book by Douglas McGrath) on the life and career of the award-winning artist as well as providing a richly entertaining musical trip down memory lane to a time when American popular music filled the ears of a new generation.

The show begins with the shy but determined, Brooklyn-born 16-year-old prodigy Carol Klein (Sarah Bockel) convincing her protective mother (Suzanne Grodner) to let her bring her songs to the attention of talent hunter Don Kirschner (Matt Loehr).

Despite the essential male domination at the heart of the music business in New York City, the youngster soon renames herself Carole King and teams up professionally and personally with lyricist Gerry Goffin (Anthony Festa), lending her melodies to a variety of classic tunes.  Together, they produce early hits like “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “One Fine Day” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” as well as making a baby of their own.

Soon, King and Goffin enter into a friendly competition with Cynthia Weil (Taylor Aronson) and Barry Mann (Ben Jacoby, who also delivers many of the show’s best laughs), a songwriting duo responsible for a bunch of hits of their own, including “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and “On Broadway” (with an assist from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller).


Though the music in “Beautiful” is rearranged for the Broadway theater stage, the performance of the songs, whether presented in colorful studio or public performance settings, is very appealing.  Bockel captures both the strength and the vulnerability within King’s best work and suggests its origins in her life story.

Numbers featuring cast members playing such classic artists as The Drifters, The Shirelles and Little Eva (D’ Marreon Alexander, Gabrielle Elisabeth and Rosharra Francis among the standouts) include spot-on period choreography by Joyce Chittick. “The Locomotion” is particularly spirited, suggesting just how sweetly light-hearted those times can be remembered as being.

King and Goffin’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday” offers just a hint of social commentary and is used to frame the breakup of the couple (one of a few soap opera-ish interludes in the show), a move to California and the emergence of the solo artist Carole King in all her hard-won glory.

Bockel’s best vocal moments came late at the performance under review with powerful takes of “It’s Too Late,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Beautiful.” A rousing curtain call of “I Feel the Earth Move” brought a final round of enthusiastic applause.

Director David Ruttura and a period-minded design staff have combined to present an opportunity to revisit an important time in the evolution of popular music and perhaps rekindle an appreciation for one artist’s major contributions to it.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: