It’s telling when the introduction to a musical includes the admonishment: “Just because you know the songs, doesn’t mean you need to serenade the other 491 people here.”
Thus begins “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at Theatre by the Sea.
Featuring the show’s Broadway understudy in the lead role, the production dedicates almost three hours to songs like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Natural Woman,” “One Fine Day” and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” in a biographical look at the Brooklyn songwriter/musician’s life.
While very tempting to sing along to these and other familiar tunes (“You’ve Got a Friend,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Take Good Care of My Baby”), it’s also refreshing to hear the words popularized by King and the host of bands and singers she wrote for reimagined by new voices.
Leading the cast is Monet Sabel who gives a mesmerizing performance as King. Whether showcasing her acting skills in heart-breaking scenes of betrayal with King’s first husband and collaborator Gerry Goffin, effusing a 16-year-old King’s youthful ambition, or powering through songs like “So Far Away,” Sabel is the pin around which the entire show revolves.
“Beautiful” takes the audience along for King’s rise to stardom in the 1960s, a rich musical era that drew on her skills turning a folksy ballad and feistier pieces like “Locomotion.” Groups like The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers and The Drifters slip on stage between King’s writing scenes to showcase her work.
The storyline is winsome, too. When her marriage dissolves and King struggles to find a niche as half of the songwriting duo, her friends, songwriting pair Cynthia and Barry, propel her forward with inspiring advice that launches her solo career.
Beyond Sabel, the cast has clear bursts of talent, but also noticeable weaknesses that, while not derailing the story, prove stark contrast to other audible highs. The male lead, Tim Quartier as Gerry, is also a powerful force on stage, with acting and vocal skills that are polished enough to lure the audience into the character’s emotional angst.
It’s the ensemble that isn’t always up to par. While Alaina Mills brings a lushness to Cynthia’s voice and a sassy spirit to the friendship, Andrew Poston’s Barry is sadly lackluster. Meghan Dawson gives a powerful performance as Janelle Woods singing “One Fine Day” but Kaléa Leverette is less than appealing as Little Eva performing “Locomotion.”
The choreography of the boy and girl band scenes, too, needs some polishing to keep the actors in synch, an integral part of their performance appeal.
Despite these moments, however, “Beautiful” is a wonderful show to experience. Part concert, part examination of the social constructs of women in the workplace and family in that era, the show is uplifting and energetic, illustrating the power of song to buoy us through life’s toughest moments.
The show, which earned Tony and Grammy awards on Broadway, is playing through July 8 at Theatre by the Sea in Wakefield. For more information, go to www.theatrebythesea.com.