Murmurs of recollection from the audience can be heard throughout “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
You hear them every time the opening strands of a chart-topping tune from singer-songwriter King waft through the pillared grandeur of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. The touring production is playing there through Feb. 5, before moving to the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami for a Feb. 14-19 run.
Everyone seems to know the songs in this jukebox musical, which is part of the reason it’s such a deeply satisfying piece of entertainment. Over two hours (with a 15-minute intermission), you get highlights of King’s songbook, many of them composed with her ex-husband Gerry Goffin, such as "The Locomotion," "One Fine Day," "You’ve Got a Friend," "Some Kind of Wonderful," "It's Too Late," "Up on the Roof" and, as a curtain call, "I Feel the Earth Move."
But also packed in there is some solid gold from King’s and Goffin's best friends and fellow composers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. So you get "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," "Walking in the Rain,” “On Broadway” and “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
The bio-musical is a glossy chronicling of King's rise from geeky Brooklyn teenager to successful pop-music songwriter, who is all the while dealing with the heartbreak of a philandering husband.
“The funny thing about life is that sometimes it goes the way you want and sometimes it doesn’t,” Kings says at the opening of the show. “But when it doesn’t, sometimes you find something beautiful.”
There’s not much time for some of the more intriguing bookmarks in King’s life: white composers writing for black vocal groups during the Civil Rights era; Goffin's manic depression exacerbated by LSD; King’s gaining confidence to perform and finding her voice as a singer-songwriter.
The story that remains in the musical’s book is swiftly told among slide-on, slide-off sets that seem to whirl around a piano, the show’s constant visual and aural anchor. The presto-change-o costumes and pop-flash light towers give the production a filmic slickness.
That’s all well and good, giving the whole shebang bumped-up Broadway pizzazz. But without charismatic leads, any jukebox musical feels hollow and rote.
Right from the start, it’s hard not to get all gooey inside watching Julia Knitel play the titular character. Her sweet voice has a yearning, youthful bounce, a quality that serves well in distinguishing her from her predecessor on the road tour, Abby Mueller. Like her, Knitel has played the role on Broadway. Mueller re-created her Great White Way turn in the touring production that had a successful run last spring at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Liam Tobin returns as Goffin, as does Curt Bouril as Don Kirshner and Ben Fankhauser as Mann. Erika Olson joins the tour as Weil. All the leads hold up well, injecting much of the musical-comedy’s laughs. If there is a weak link, it is the ensemble’s trying to convey the likes of the Drifters and the Shirelles. Despite game efforts, the result is much too close to cruise-ship music and drains the pop music of its pop.
But when, Knitel comes back on and gives a quiet-storm reading of “You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” her shoulders hunched and eyes closed, everything is beautiful again.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is running through Feb. 5 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $37-$113. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org.
The show will also appear Feb. 14-19 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Tickets cost $35-$150. To order, call 877-949-6722 or go to ArshtCenter.org.