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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jun 15, 2019


kayla rivera as carole king, george schulze as barry and mikee bradshaw as cynthia

kayla with nick varrichio as gerry goffin

‘BEAUTIFUL’ is a jukebox biography musical that combines most of the familiar hits of singer-songwriter Carole King. This is reminiscent of other musicals using established songs, like “Mamma Mia” of the ABBA and “Jersey Boys” of the pop group Four Seasons, both Broadway megahits. It’s definitely a delightful trip down memory for our generation.

It starts in 1971 with Carole King singing ‘So Far Away’ at Carnegie Hall, then travels back in time to 1958 in Brooklyn when Carole is a 16 year old who dreams of going to Manhattan to sell a song she wrote to music publisher Donnie Kirshner. Her Jewish mother discourages her and tells her: “Girls don’t write music, they teach it!”

Donnie listens to her song, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’, and takes it. The show then charts Carole’s bumpy road to stardom from her humble origins to her success as musician and later, as a performer, in both sides of the Atlantic, song by song by song. It also shows her falling in love, getting married as a teenager, then the subsequent heartbreak, separation and independently standing on her own.

Carole studies at Queens College and meets a lyricist, Gerry Goffin. They collaborate, fall in love, and Carole is pregnant at 18. She sings ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ that the male group The Drifters then record. Expanding the song list further is their friendship with another songwriting couple, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who have their own roster of hits like ‘On Broadway’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’.

They also become good-natured professional competitors. Donnie needs a song for the female group, The Shirelles. Carole and Gerry write “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. Cynthia and Barry do “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”. Donnie chooses “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and it hits number 1 in the music charts.

The two teams then churn out a fantastic string of hits, including “Up on the Roof” and “The Locomotion”. Act One ends with Gerry confessing to Carole that he is attracted to a new singer, Janelle Woods. She is shocked and sings their new song, “One Fine Day”, herself.

In Act Two, Gerry continues his affair with Janelle. Nick, a guitarist, tries to convince Carole to sing but she says she has stage fright. Cynthia herself is having trouble with Barry, who offers to marry her, but she demurs. Gerry has a nervous breakdown and tells Carole he will leave Janelle. She gives him a second chance. But he is later seen with another singer, Marilyn Wald..

This is the last straw that ends their marriage. Carole leaves New York for Los Angeles and as she says goodbye to friends Donnie, Cynthia and Barry, she sings them the would be monster hit, “You’ve Got a Friend”. In L.A., she records her own album, “Tapestry”, which includes one of her biggest hits, “A Natural Woman”, which is a moment of self-actualization. This was in 1971 when Carole is not yet 30. The album is a blockbuster. Carole goes back to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall where Gerry asks for forgiveness. She then goes to the piano and the play ends as she performs the title song, “Beautiful”, a true paean to self-empowerment.

Kayla Rivera succeeds in making us really care deeply about the character she plays, making us root for her to spread her wings. What makes her performance so affecting is that her character starts as someone who lacks confidence, then she slowly transforms as the play goes on.

Although she knows she can writes good songs, she does not believe she has what it takes to be a singer-performer herself. We now know that Ms. King, the reluctant star, will eventually shine on her own after dumping her philandering husband, winning Grammys with her first best-selling album.

Kayla is supported by a solid cast of principal actors plus a very strong ensemble who stage some dazzling show-stoppers. George Schulze as the hypocondriac Barry and Mikee Bradshaw (who seems to be so happy with Nyoy Volante that she gained a lot of weight) as the spirited Cynthia effortlessly steal some scenes with their hilarious lines as virtual comic sidekicks.

Carla Guevara Laforteza also stands out in a non-singing role as Carole’s wisecracking Jewish mom. Jamie Wilson also has his moments as music producer Don Kirshner, striking a nice balance between his managerial skills and his increasing affection for his songwriters.

Nick Varrichio makes the most of the thankless, unsympathetic role of the cheating, unstable husband. But if he’d been faithful and emotionally stable, then we wouldn’t have a show. The supporting cast members perform various roles and shine brightly in their show-stopping musical numbers as stand ins for hit singing groups of the era: The Shirelles, The Drifters and the Righteous Brothers, capturing the silky and smooth back up vocals with style.

Director Bobby Garcia’s staging is engaging from start to finish, quickly paced and mounted with class in its transitions from living rooms, recording offices, sound studios, nightclubs to the Carnegie Hall stage. It's going to be staged at the Meralco Theatre every weekend until July 7 so get your tickets now.