Beautiful at the Eccles Theater is Simply Gorgeous!

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By Jennifer and Craig Mustoe

One of the first albums I ever owned was Tapestry, by Carole King. I sang each of her songs over and over, loud and strong. Young as I was, the message of each song resonated with me. Now I realize that’s one of the reasons why this album won many awards and sold over 25 million(!) copies. It clearly resonated with a lot of us. And it is a layered, lovely collection of musical stories.

Now, I need to admit something right here about musicals. I love being in them sometimes more than I love going to see them. You see, the reason for this is in musicals, so much of the story line is sung. You want to tell someone you love them? Sing it. You want to tell someone you hate them? Sing it. Sometimes I just want to scream: Just say it! In Beautiful, the plot points aren’t told in song. The songs, Carole King’s songs, are the story.

Beautiful tells Carole King’s (played by the stupendously talented Julia Knitel) success story, from her many years as a songwriter in New York to her triumph in Los Angeles. My husband, Craig, a rock history enthusiast (nerd) already knew much of King’s story, but it was new to me and it is delightful.

Sixteen-year-old Carole Klein/King sold her first song to Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril) of Aldon Records. She also met the man who would soon be her husband, Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin.) Together, she and Goffin produced many hits together for popular singers of the time, including Bobby Vee, The Chiffons, and the Monkees. One of the major plot points in Beautiful is the friendly competition King and Goffin have with dear friends and rivals Cynthia Weil (Erika Olsen) and husband Barry Mann (Ben Frankhauser) who wrote such hits as: “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”. Beautiful‘s first act shows these two couples’ rise to fame and the sacrifices they need to make to make it. What I loved about this was of course the factual part of this–I had no idea Carole King was anything but a recording star! But the warmth and bounteous humor of this made it a delight to watch. Carole’s mother, Genie Klein (Suzanne Grodner) is comic relief and very funny.

The show has few dance numbers compared to other musicals, which makes sense, as this is a story about a woman who didn’t dance. Most of the dancing was done by the 60s groups The Drifters, The Sharells and The Righteous Brothers. Choreography by Josh Prince was so spot on, I felt like I was watching the real performers all over again. Little vignettes by these performers built the musical layers wonderfully. Music director Susan Draus created a musical masterpiece. And the voices of each performer were perfect. You’d expect nothing less from a Broadway Across America show. Director Marc Bruni has created a lovely, funny, perfect show. The costumes, by Alejo Vietti, are marvelous–especially the sparkly, snappy, chic vintage costumes worn by the 60s bands and singers.

My husband and I found the second act slightly rushed and something of a letdown. King and Goffin divorce and both Knitel and Tobin handle this with aching precision. But then, suddenly, Carole is in Los Angeles and is a big star and the end. So much music and vibrancy and fun and heartache happened in Act One that it felt rushed in Act Two. I researched Carole King for this review and it turns out that a lot happened that wasn’t in the show, and really, you can’t put every experience in a Broadway show or it would be eight hours long. But she did struggle somewhat in California, she did marry again, and I would have liked to see more of her story. And maybe that’s why Beautiful is so wonderful. Maybe after seeing it, like me, people rush to Wikipedia to find out more about Carole King the songwriter, the performer, the wife, the mother, the star.

Because it is the habit of reviewers at Front Row Reviewers Utah to recommend shows to certain audiences, I would say this is a show for tweens and up, especially those who love oldies. The Eccles Theater is a huge, lovely space, so getting good seats is important if you want to see the actors’ expressions.

Finally, do not miss this show. It is Broadway quality and really shouldn’t be missed. It is gorgeous, fun, and inspiring.

Beautiful, The Carole King Musical

Broadway at the Eccles

Eccles Theater Box Office
131 S. Main St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

11.15-17.16 7:30 PM, 11.18.16 8:00 PM, 11.19.16 2:00 and 8:00 PM, 11.20.16 1:00 PM and 6:30 PM.

Arttix.artsaltlake.org $50-$100

Find Your Damage at Utah Rep’s Heathers

by Susannah Whitman

heathers2If you’re looking for rocking music and plenty of teenage angst, look no further than Utah Repertory Theatre’s production of Heathers. Full of 80s throwbacks, dark humor, and great choreography, this show offers an edgy alternative to Utah’s standard Disney fare.

The show opens with Veronica Sawyer wandering the halls of Westerberg High School, 1989—or rather, attempting to navigate its shark-filled waters. High school is tough when you’re not on the top of the food chain, so Veronica makes a decision to find a way in with the most popular girls in the school: Heather Chandler, Heather McNamara, and Heather Duke. If she can become a “Heather” herself, maybe she can survive the rumors, taunts, and bullying that dominate high school life. Things get complicated with the arrival of “bad boy” JD, though. Veronica and JD share a bed and a hatred for high school’s social maze. But while Veronica’s plan is to befriend those who know their way around, JD’s plan is to blow the maze up. JD’s anarchy slowly gets more and more out of hand, and Veronica has to decide how much she’s willing to give up to stay on top.

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The musical is a 2014 adaptation of the 1981 cult classic film Heathers, a predecessor to “Mean Girls,” but with more violence and macabre humor. The adaptation is wildly successful in using songs to expand iconic moments in the film, and playing homage to some of the classic lines of the movie.

Karli Rose Lowry and Derek Gregerson have some big shoes to fill—Winona Ryder and Christian Slater played the roles of Veronica and JD in the 1981 film. But both actors make the characters their own with enormous success. Karli Rose Lowry fills the rafters with a stunning voice, and her humor and honesty make her one of the most likeable protagonists imaginable. In his final number, Derek Gregerson’s eyes communicate so much heartbroken madness, you can’t help but love him, flawed as he is. Other stand-out performances come from Michael Hernandez and Dan Ogden, who play the caveman-esque football players who reside at the top of the high school’s social food chain. Both Hernandez and Ogden gave committed, honest, and hilarious performances. Chaska Johnson as Martha Dunnstock (“Martha Dumptruck”) gave a moving performance as Veronica’s childhood best friend, especially in her song “Kindergarten Boyfriend.” There were no weak cast members at all—every actor created full characters, sang and danced well, and committed fully to every scene.

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The show features a live 5-piece band, placed directly behind the actors onstage. The energy they bring to the music is inspiring. Rick Rea’s musical direction shone, especially in large group numbers, and Michael Hernandez’s choreography was engaging and energetic and perfectly suited to the show.

The venue is a small one, located inside the Sorensen Community Center, but there are no bad seats in the space, it’s got lights and sound to rival any other small theatre. The performance I saw had a few technical glitches, but I could easily see the vision of the designers, and they didn’t distract very much from the show.

While the costumes, by Nancy Cannon, were fun and fitting, many of them seemed to be lifted from the off-Broadway production, without much originality. However, they looked great and definitely gave color and spunk to the show. Nothing seemed out of place, but I was disappointed to not see more creativity. Johnny Hebda’s direction worked well throughout the show. Set pieces were created using acting blocks, and projections were used to signify specific locations. The projections were the weakest aspect of the production—most of the time they were unnecessary, and at worst, they were distracting. Most of what they accomplished could have been done with lighting, sound, and/or music, without causing the audience’s attention to wander away from the actors onstage to the screen above their heads.

Utah Rep is now in its 4th season, and Heathers is exactly the kind of edgy, provocative theatre they’ve become known for. The company offers alternative theatre to audiences who are looking for something more than another production of a Disney musical. Not that there’s anything wrong with Disney musicals—it’s just that variety is valuable. I’d give this show a strong PG-13 rating (language, sexuality, teen suicide), but for those interested in something dark and entertaining and yes, thoughtful, I highly recommend Heathers.

Utah Repertory Theatre presents Heathers: The Musical by Kevin Murphey and Laurence O’Keefe.

Sorensen Unity Center, Black Box Theatre, 1383 S 900 W, Salt Lake City

November 4-5, 11-12, 18-20

7:30 pm, Saturday matinee 2 pm, Sunday matinee on November 20 at 3 pm

Tickets: $20 for adults, $17 for students/seniors

Available at the door or online at http://utahrep.org