After beginning with much of the familiar “campiness” that is often associated with musical theatre, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical surprises the audience by seamlessly transforming into a poignant and deeply profound psychological journey of a young girl who eventually discovers that her own voice was worth hearing.
Sarah Bockel’s lead performance of Carole King was nothing less than brilliant, with Bockel’s voice and personhood beautifully mirroring that of the singer/songwriter herself. She had big shoes to fill by taking on the role of Carole King and she more than rose to the task.
The show began with the accomplished adult Carole at the piano, immediately piquing the audience’s curiosity by saying that she had never actually wanted to be a singer. Following those first award-winning songs with her at the piano that stirred reminiscent memories in the hearts and minds of the audience members, the show shifted focus to the time when Carole was a young girl living at home with her single mom.
A humble 16-year-old who lacked confidence in herself and struggled with her body image, Carole Klein (who later called herself Carole King) had a dream to become a songwriter, despite her mother’s fears and preference that she instead become a school teacher. The unfolding of her adventures into the world of music was at times funny, while at other times soulful, lively, and inspiring. As a viewer, frequently I found myself spontaneously smiling and tapping my feet to the beat of the familiar music. I also learned how many of the songs I’ve grown to love over the years that were performed by a multitude of different artists were actually written by Carole King herself.
On a whole other level, I was moved by the songwriter’s incredible courage and ability to love, even when her husband began to struggle with severe mental health challenges. Even though her childhood was cut short by becoming a teen parent, she forged forward with humility, integrity and authenticity. Learning about how her life offered her inspiration for her songs filled me with an even deeper appreciation of not only her music but also of Carole herself.
In our current time of the Me-Too Movement as women are re-claiming their sense of worth and personal power, this artistic rendition of perhaps the most pivotal period in Carole King’s life couldn’t be more timely.
The messages of empowerment, acceptance, and self-love that characterized the entire production, ending with Carole King’s song “Beautiful” left me and others present for this slice-of-life show filled with greater hope for ourselves and about the human condition.
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical by Broadway Across Canada is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver until 18 November 2018. Tickets at: http://broadwayacrosscanada.ca/canada.html
~ reviewed by Theresa Nicassio PhD
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