How difficult must it be to become someone else? Somehow, Abby Mueller, an actress who probably isn’t a household name, transforms into the legendary singer Carole King in the Broadway musical “Beautiful.”
It’s a risky proposition. Many of us already know songs like “So Far Away” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which means we know what the song should sound like, even if we can’t sing it in tune.
And yet, Mueller, who is clearly the star of a show about another star, pulls it off incredibly well, giving us the energy, the soul, the innocence and the ambition of a remarkable talent.
Watching and, more importantly, listening to the show is a transformative experience. Music has that remarkable power, bringing us back to a car when we might have often heard “Up on the Roof” or sending us back in our minds to a dance party where we threw ourselves across the floor of a friend’s house as we invented our own steps to “The Loco-Motion,” where “everybody’s doing a brand new dance, now.”
Even though the dance isn’t so brand new anymore, it feels revived when we watch the high energy action on stage.
My wife and I snuck away before the end of the summer to see the musical, which left us humming and singing the songs through the next day.
The musical itself, like many other Broadway stories, is a collection of dialogue, a loose story and a compilation of rollicking music. The story line follows the musical career of King and her writing partner and husband Gerry Goffin, whom she married when she was 17 and pregnant. The audience feels as if it’s witnessing the birth of these songs, as Goffin pairs his familiar lyrics to the music King wrote.
The first half of the show, which is considerably longer than the second, is like a collection of musical candy tossed to a hungry audience.
I snuck glances around the room at some of the other people fortunate enough to take a musical joyride and I saw that, like me, several of the guests, who were mostly in their late 40s and older, had smiles plastered on their faces.
The second act doesn’t contain as many songs and delves into the more challenging and sadder parts of King’s life, where she endures the hardship of her husband’s infidelities and the creative tension that sometimes won the battle over his creative talent.
King, as we know, lands on her feet, becoming the legendary composer, singer and songwriter who was inducted with Goffin into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 for their songwriting.
The energy on stage throughout the show, with performances by a talented team reviving the style and moves of the Shirelles and the Drifters, rival the thrill of watching the cast of “Mamma Mia!” who belted out the familiar Abba songs.
The difference here, however, is that the script is not a plot written to tie together songs, but evolves as the backstory behind the early days of music that long ago circled the United States and the world.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” definitely lives up to the awards it has won, including the 2015 Grammy for best musical theater album and its two Tony Awards in 2014, which include a well-deserved honor for Mueller.
The only speed bump during this otherwise wonderful ride is the dramatic downshifting in the second act, where the drama, while no doubt true to life, slows the musical momentum. Still, the conclusion and the experience are rewarding, allowing us to reconnect with the legendary singer’s past, and our own.