Virginia Repertory Theatre is Beautiful with New Carole King Musical

by | Jul 26, 2023 | MUSIC, PERFORMING ARTS, POP & TOP 40

It seems only natural for a musician to be the subject of a musical, and this, of course, must be why the idea has become incredibly common in the last few years. Films have done this repeatedly, such as ‘Across the Universe,’ adapting the music of The Beatles into a narrative structure. More directly than that, though, you have stage productions in the realm of ‘Jersey Boys,’ displaying the life and music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and ‘Motown,’ showing off the genre creation of Barry Gordy. Sometimes, however, it becomes necessary to show off someone who spent many years in the background. In this, you will find Carole King.

The music of Carole King

At Virginia Repertory Theatre, running until August 6th, is Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. For those of you unfamiliar with Carole King, she is a prominent songwriter and recording artist who absolutely flourished in the second half of the 20th century. Beginning as a teenager in the 1950s, King wrote some of the most recognizable tunes and songs from the 60s and 70s, and that was before she even embarked on a career as an actual recording artist. With a vibrant back catalog of tunes across numerous decades, the show has a lot to pull on but mainly chooses to focus on King’s career up until her move from New York to Los Angeles to begin a recording career. This still includes a huge array of number one singles that she wrote with her partner Gerry Goffin for some of the biggest names in music through the early days of her career, and filling in the gaps with music by longtime friends and colleagues Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Grey Garrett. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

The show originally premiered in San Francisco in 2013 before moving to Broadway the next year with a book by Academy and Tony Award-nominated writer Douglas McGrath. Originally a television writer starting at Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, McGrath saw most of the success in his career as a screenwriter and actor/director. As a writer, he co-wrote ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ with Woody Allen, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and as a writer/director, he worked with everyone from Sigourney Weaver to Nathan Lane. His decision, as one of his final projects (as McGrath died in 2022), to write the book for a musical about a songwriter from the 60s and 70s is a strange one, to be sure, but it earned him his Tony Award nomination in turn. The script is fast-paced and constantly in motion, with one scene jumping directly into the next one, however, with the smooth demonstration of one of King’s popular songs often serving as transitions.

Jianna Hurt, Miciah Jenel, Zahra Ndirangu and Bree Ogaldez. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Starring Richmond local veteran Grey Garrett in the title role, every actor soars out of the gate, with Mark Persinger as Don Kirshner, the executive at the record company King works for, and Katie Goffman as Cynthia Weil, a songwriter and King’s rival/friend, standing out. The actors convey a sense of familiarity with their characters, as Garrett offers up an uncanny resemblance to the performances of King, and the dialect and candor of the 60s shine through the mannerisms of every character. The energy on stage is palpable as everyone keeps up with the dizzying pace of the script, while Garrett serves as a calming centerpiece whose sobering presence can be felt emanating from the stage as chaos often ensues around her.

The set by designer Frank Foster is simple, with scaffolding-like staircases and platforms evoking an unfinished building – perhaps in reference to the artist in King who, though seasoned, is only just at the beginning of what she will become. Simple and period-accurate pieces of furniture are regularly moved in against the backdrop, providing a contrast between the slick and clean with the harsh and in-progress. A perfect example of how simplicity can be so effective – trust the audience to fill in any gaps with their imagination.

Photo by Aaron Sutten.

The choreography done by Simeon Rawls is absolutely electric. Reserved mostly for the two groups performing King’s incredible music, primarily Little Eva and The Drifters, dancers explode onto the stage and take charge. After they have finished, and have allowed each member of the group a chance to shine, the dancers/singers bow, and then classily saunter up center stage to disappear into a world unknown.

In a community often rife with pretension and overpriced beverages, Virginia Repertory Theatre offers reasonably priced and high-quality productions with three and a half-dollar beers available in the lobby. ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is a Summer must-see for Richmond music lovers, even those unfamiliar with King herself. The nonstop energy that tears through the show’s two-hour and fifteen-minute runtime and stellar music, even Carole King die-hards might be surprised to find out was written by the veteran songstress, make this show more than worth the cost of admission.

Get tickets here

Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

But you may call me Bones. I'm the Associate Editor of RVA Mag, and a writer and musician living in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing I have gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, an album of original music, and perform lead vocals with the band Pebbles Palace.

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