Sunday, June 16, 2019

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Atlantis Theatrical)


Considered as one of the greatest songwriters of her generation, Carole King (Kayla Rivera) starts off as a neophyte in the music industry before getting her big break as a composer. Along the way she meets Gerry Goffin (Nick Varricchio), the campus heartthrob who eventually becomes her husband. After an unplanned pregnancy, the two get married young and become a formidable songwriting duo placing hits on top of the Billboard Charts one right after another. The couple also foster a friendly competition with rivals Cynthia Weil (Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante) and Barry Mann (George Schulze) who work for the same music publisher. As they navigate the upper echelons of the industry en route to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the music scene starts to change; their relationships begin to fizzle. Can one really juggle a successful career and family life in an ever-changing musical landscape?

It’s one of those musicals that is always on Broadway when I go so I never bother to watch it. I guess it’s also because I have no idea who the heck Carole King is. And so I went to Meralco Theater knowing that she is a songwriter, nothing else. I was bored during the first 15 minutes or so until they started singing more songs and I began recognizing many of them, at which point I realized, hmmkay, we are not giving songwriters the recognition that they deserve in composing all of these Billboard hits.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is based on the songwriter’s life story. It’s an autobiography brought to life through her string of Billboard hits starting in the 60’s. As with most jukebox musicals, it has been criticized for having a generic plot, but the song numbers make up for it in my opinion. Every time a song begins, you hear a collective gasp from the more mature members of the audience. At that point you just realize how songs can unite a generation. When they sing along, it becomes a communal experience.

Beautiful is as fun as it is informative. Most scenes start with brainstorming followed by a sample leading to a full production by the actors portraying the roles of popular bands and girl groups during that time. As such, the audience gets an idea about the evolution of a chart-topper, from its conception in the living room of the lyricist all the way to the live shows where they zoom all the way to the top of the charts. It has that mixed vibe of a docu-musical that makes you want to sing along and dance.

As far as the storyline is concerned, Carole King has had her own share of ups and downs, and this musical is anchored on her life story as a songwriter, a wife, a friend, and a mother. The theme is in line with the recent movement of female empowerment without being too in your face. If anything, it’s a good chronicle of a person’s success regardless of gender. In any case, you will enjoy this better if you review King’s discography before going to the theater. Otherwise, just rediscover them as you watch and sing.

The first time I saw and heard Rivera sing was in Side Show last year, but she was one of the twins who looked so much alike that I can’t remember anymore if she was the timid or the bitchy one. Here she takes center stage and does so with a vocal repertoire that makes you want to ask where has she been all this time. Hopefully, she stays for good and gets more projects. As for Varricchio, he initially gives off a regular white dude kind of vibe, and then he starts to sing and dance. The guy’s an all-around entertainer.

Even then, this musical wouldn’t be half as fun if it weren’t for the supporting cast, them boys and girls who sang the hits and danced to them in all their 60’s glory and made me feel like I was watching snippets of a live concert. Damn it, guys. You make it all look so effortless. I’ve been hearing some whispers on the aisles that this is way better than the Broadway version. I guess I’ll never know because I’m not in the habit of watching something I already saw somewhere else on Broadway, but I can tell you that I had one hell of a good time, and I’d willingly pay to watch you all perform again. Encore, please.

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