When I was born, the Carole King party had been over quite a while already, but for a couple of years I had been familiar with one of her songs without knowing. (You make me feel like a) Natural Woman, which is included in a Aretha Franklin triple CD edition, has been very present as a song in my life.
In the first production videos of Beautiful Jessie Mueller stood there, singing this song and I was all like: Wait? I thought that was Aretha’s song.
And then I learned that Beautiful would play at the Stephen Sondheim theatre and I so needed to see this – because I have a crush on this theatre building ever since Tim, our BroadwayUpClose tourguide (read what that is over here!), told us that only the front was old and while the theatre was brand new and actually downstairs. You basically enter the building and for everything that’s not the mezzanine you go downstairs.
Now on to the show itself! We get to know Carole King when she’s around 16 and then she follow her career as a song-writer and her marriage with her collaborator and everything. While we do so, we hear a lot of her tunes – sometimes they’d be introduced like “Oh, I have an idea!” and they play two or three harmonies on the piano and suddenly there’s a fully staged number (in gorgeous costumes!) going on. It’s easy to say that Beautiful is kind of a regular jukebox-musical, which people mostly see because I know and love the songs at least that’s what I heard from people going into and leaving the theatre (and in the hotel elevator: “Oh, Tapestry was the first ever CD I bought! And we’d store our dope in the booklet later on!”).
Just here this post could be finished if it wasn’t for Jessie Mueller. I mean she is the really bright spot of this show (without really shining most of the time if that makes sense). I’ve read a lot about her in the show beforehand and I already knew I liked her voice – but what I saw right there in the theatre was a complete surprise. With most of the performances I see I can say that in case I can’t say anythings (or at least: not much) about the acting is must be good in a certain way. Regarding Jessie Mueller in Beautiful I am almost 100% sure that I haven’t seen something like this in a show like this in musical theatre. Ever. Saying she IS Carole King would be wrong (at least for me), because nobody is Carole King with the exeption of Carole King herself. But Jessie Mueller makes us believe she was Carole King. In every not outgoing characteristic King is known for. She is so unglamorous, so not confident and insecure – and she lets others take the stage. For example Anika Larsen as Cynthia Weil with the amazing voice she shows in her rendition of “Happy Days Are Here Again” and all this funny things she gets to say to Jarrod Spector as Barry Man (while Jessie Mueller as Carole only gets to struggle with Gerry Goffin/Jake Epstein). Mueller seems to be the calm spot holding everything together. From where I sat I could see that basically everytime she stands up after she sat for a while she’d pull up her pants in a kind of awkward manner and somehow this made her character real in a very “Behind the scenes of a TV show”-kind of way.
To conclude: I loved Jessie Mueller, her acting and her singing, I liked all the leads and the overall singing, while I wasn’t that much into the book and the ‘plot’ – I mean it was nice to watch and everything, but it was nothing special. But then again, Jessie Mueller’s performance was so special it’s worth everything.