At an early preview of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, many King fans were in attendance, gasping or nodding their heads in recognition as the opening strains of one classic composition after another filled the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. In the weeks to come, one is likely to find many more Carole King devotees in the audience of the new show. One face you won't find in the crowd, however, is Carole King.
Frankie Valli may have taken in his share of performances of Jersey Boys, and Berry Gordy, Jr., seems perfectly happy to see his career enacted in Motown — he wrote the libretto, after all — but a musical about the life of Carole King is apparently not Carole King's idea of a fun night out. As of this publishing, the famed singer-songwriter has absorbed exactly one half of a reading of the show, which has a book by Douglas McGrath.
"She came to a reading and lasted halfway through," said Sherry Kondor, the daughter of King and her 1960s writing partner and then husband Gerry Goffin. "She said 'I have to go.' I said, 'You're just going? What do I tell all these people?' She said, 'Tell them it's great. I can tell it's great. But I can't watch my life played out before me.'"
One can't blame King. The time period depicted in Beautiful — the late 1950s to the early '70s — were fecund years for King, an era when she and Goffin became one of the leading songwriting teams in the music business, the authors of iconic pop tunes like "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Up on the Roof," "One Fine Day" and "The Loco-Motion." But they were also years of emotional turmoil, exacerbated by King's marrying at the tender age of 17 and quickly having two children, not to mention spouse Goffin's wandering eye and mental unmooring. The two divorced in 1968.
"I support Carole's feelings," said Cynthia Weil, King's longtime friend and half of the equally successful Brill Building tune-making team of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. "This show is very revealing and painful. There are moments she doesn't want to live again."
Weil and Mann, meanwhile — who are also characters in the musical — are not so shy. "I find it fantastic," said Mann of the show. "I enjoy the characters." Weil added, "I feel the same way Barry does." Goffin, too, has seen it. And though his doppelganger doesn't necessarily behave handsomely in the story, he was pleased with how the production came out. "It's not exactly the way it happened," he said, "but I think it works very well for the show."
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