“Beautiful” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – November 25, 2016


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

On a recent Broadway trip, one of the best and most exciting musicals was Jessie Mueller’s stunning transformation to become songwriter Carole King in “Beautiful” that featured over two dozen of the composer’s songs that were used to describe her challenging life including her marriage to Gerry Goffin and how she created her hit tunes.

When the show headed out on tour, Mueller’s sister, Theresa, played the role.  Many said Theresa was as good or better than Jessie.  But Valley theatergoers rarely see Broadway national tours early in their runs with the premiere cast.  As “Beautiful” finally comes to town toward the end of its tour, the Broadway Carole King understudy Julia Knitel has been elevated to the starring role.  Her ASU Gammage performance, where the show plays through Sunday, is competent but it is a pale interpretation of Mueller’s original portrayal.  Knitel is always playing a role as she tries to be King but Knitel never transforms into the star as Mueller did originally.

Knitel’s singing is decent and, occasionally, she actually sounds like King but her acting and interpretation isn’t truly believable.  So the touring “Beautiful” is a winning and entertaining homage to King but the show never becomes the stellar musical it was originally and that it should be.  When will local Broadway audiences be treated to first national tours and not long running tours with replacement casts and where duplication of the original production fades?

Douglas McGrath’s book dramatically tells King’s troubling life story interestingly and he uses her tunes to provide appropriate emphasis to her life.  “Beautiful” on Broadway filled a small theater where the intimate setting brought audiences into the show.  Here “Beautiful” is dwarfed by ASU Gammage, a facility far too big for this show.

“Beautiful” is engagingly staged and sharply choreographed by Marc Bruni and Josh Prince both from the original production.  The tour boasts a fine supporting cast and a winning sound system that allows not one word to be lost in the vast expanses of ASU Gammage.  Do be warned that “Beautiful” is a loud show so the woman sitting next to me opening night had her fingers firmly implanted in her ears through much of the performance.

The brilliant hit Carole King songs entertain mightily and a competent cast turns “Beautiful” into an entertaining delight.  Because star Knitel isn’t able to carry the show and never truly becomes King, “Beautiful” disappoints.  To order tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C