There's a fun, thoroughly entertaining history lesson in “Beautiful The Carole King Musical.”
Anyone interested in 1960s pop hits will be fascinated to learn about the composers and lyricists — King, her husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin, and their friendly competitors Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil — who churned out numerous best-selling songs people still sing today.
Those songs, of course, are the heart of the show, written by Doug McGrath, and debuting in its pre-New York engagement at the Curran Theatre in The City.
It's difficult to imagine that this fact-based tale about the professional and personal lives of these great American songwriters won't be a huge success on Broadway.
Speaking of Broadway, 1650 Broadway is the address of the office (down the street from the Brill Building) where the young foursome toiled, coming up with dance songs, love songs and catchy songs for their boss, producer and publisher Don Kirshner, who placed them with pop groups of the day.
“Beautiful” delightfully describes the origins of those tunes. For example, who knew that Little Eva of “The Loco-Motion” fame was King and Goffin's babysitter?
Darker moments and conflicts in “Beautiful” revolve around King and Goffin's troubled relationship. The pair, songwriting prodigies (she wrote melodies, he wrote words), met in their teens, and wed when King got pregnant. Throughout their marriage, the adventuresome Goffin's fidelity, and sometimes mental health, were at issue.
It’s a problem for the quiet, homebody King, who truly comes into her own after she and Goffin split up, and she herself performs “It’s Too Late” at a piano in front of a small audience at a club.
It’s one of several cathartic, breathtaking moments in “Beautiful,” and Jessie Mueller as King makes the most of it. Her evocative portrayal, not really an impersonation, captures King’s moods and qualities: sheer talent, humility, insecurity, perseverance, triumphant.
Jake Epstein is nicely sympathetic as the leather-jacket-clad Goffin, who is full of foibles, but also warm-hearted and capable of writing universally enduring lyrics such as “Will you still love me tomorrow?”
Anika Larsen as the sassy, glamorous Weil, and Jarrod Spector as the snappy hypochondriac Mann are equally funny and heartwarming as the couple who wrote the classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” as well as” “We Gotta Get out of This Place,” among many songs.
The only downside to “Beautiful” is that it doesn't dig deep enough into tunes from “Tapestry,” King's best-selling 1971 album that became the soundtrack to the lives of millions. While the show may have special emotional significance to those girls — the middle-aged and senior women who filled the audience opening night — it’s also an enlightening and engaging primer for all fans of pop music.
Beautiful — The Carole King Musical
Presented by SHN
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $50 to $210