Her music has been called a “soundtrack to a generation,” and throughout this week, you can be part of the cultural phenomenon produced by one of the music world’s most prolific singer-songwriters. “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” hits the Plaza Theatre Wednesday through Sunday, Sept. 20-24.
The production centers on the life and career of Carole King, who from the age of 16 became a pop music darling, writing songs for such notable acts as The Shirelles, Aretha Franklin, the Righteous Brothers and The Monkees.
“Beautiful” is the story of King’s famed career and life, along with husband and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin, and friends, songwriting husband-and-wife duo, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Jacob Epstein plays Mann in the show. For him, it was a childhood dream come true to portray such a dynamic talent.
“It was really incredible to learn some of my favorite songs were written by someone I was about to be playing,” he shared. “Barry is a brilliant musical mind, which is really what drives him.”
The Tony Award-winning production is an energetic, dynamic glimpse into the creative process behind some of the most recognizable music to ever come out the famous Brill Building at 1650 Broadway in Manhattan. That’s where the play’s four principals created much of their repertoire under the guidance of music publisher and manager Don Kirshner, who Time magazine dubbed “The Man with the Golden Ear” in 1966.
“The show really creates this beautiful world of songwriting at that time, a lot of it placed under the hands of Kirshner,” Epstein said. “He didn’t know anything about music technically. He would say, ‘It needs more babomps there and less crashes here,’ and he would be correct.”
He also pointed while the quartet of songwriters portrayed in “Beautiful” did not necessarily write together, they enjoyed a healthy competition, pushed each other’s boundaries and spurred each other on to continuously create some of the era’s most memorable music.
For Epstein, delving into Mann’s character was a relatively smooth transition due to his familiarity with his music.
“My dad was always listening to all of the songs that came out of that building where Carol, Gerry, Barry and Cynthia wrote all their music,” he reminisced.
Epstein said the show also depicts some difficult, defining moments in King’s life.
“Carole goes through a lot in the show and is constantly looking for ways to love, and to love better,” Epstein said.
Long-time local classic rock station 92.3 The Fox DJ Sargent Preston regards King as one of music’s true legends.
“You hear big superlatives being thrown about – being ‘legendary.’ But she’s really earned her stripes on that,” he said. “If I’m not mistaken, she’s the most successful female songwriter of the 20th century, or at least the last part of it.”
For Preston, the sheer staying power on different radio station formats is further proof of King’s enormous success and popularity.
“I was doing both formats back in the 70s – top 40 and album rock. I remember we were playing the heck out of her on both formats,” he said. “To have any kind of sustaining power, you really had to have a lot going for you. As a solo artist, she really crossed all bounds.”
King’s solo record “Tapestry” is listed among Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Albums and stayed at the top of the album charts for a total of more than 300 weeks.
Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour-long show, groups like The Drifters, The Shirelles and the Righteous Brothers all burst into song, highlighting some of King’s most famous works. Classic hits like “One Fine Day,” “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” transport the audience back to Motown music’s heyday.
Epstein also pointed out the dynamism and sheer talent of the show’s actors, many of whom portrayed multiple characters.
“I was surprised at how the show explodes forward,” Epstein said. “It’s so realistic in the beginning, and then it almost steps out of [stage]. All of a sudden you feel like you’re at a Righteous Brothers concert.”