The first production of the Arvada Center’s 2023-2024 theatre season traces the story of an American music icon.
Carole King wrote the music for an entire generation — Including such classics as "I Feel the Earth Move," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Beautiful." That last one provides the title track to “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which tells the story of the singer/songwriter’s incredible rise to fame through the songs she’s become known for.
Emily Van Fleet, who plays Carole King in the production, remembers hearing these songs during family road trips.
“I learned about Carole King, I think like a lot of people of my generation, from my parents who grew up with ‘Tapestry’ and kind of came into their own as adults with this soundtrack of Carole King music,” Van Fleet said.
She adds that she loves how the show focuses on King’s earlier years, and the songs she and her husband, Gerry Goffin, wrote for other, more popular artists when they were still “kind of nobodies.”
Ty-Gabriel Jones returns to the Arvada Center for this show, after appearing in its production of “Damn Yankees” earlier this year. In Beautiful, they play one of The Drifters. The group had a hit with King’s song, “Up on the Roof,” in 1963.
“I think it would be really easy for me to say, this is a nostalgic show, but I think that's really hollow today,” Jones said. “People are writing music that is written to go viral via TikTok. People are writing things for a very specific generation. They know that that's the vehicle that's going to send it where they want it to go. And I think this is tapping back into storytelling outside of the musical theater genre of music.”
Beautiful looks at the music business during a time when hits were coming out of music factories, in King’s case, the storied Brill Building in New York. The central story is a joyous celebration of female empowerment, but it still manages to include the songs that everyone couldn’t stop dancing to.
Choreographer Kelly Van Oosbree took some of her cues from other shows covering this time period, like The Jersey Boys and Ain't Too Proud. Van Oosbree said it was fun to create movement for the Great American Songbook, calling it “some of the best music — best dance music — that's ever been written.”
“So it was super, super fun, not only to research the time period and the types of popular dances that were happening in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, mid-’70s,” she said, “but (also) these particular artists — the Drifters, the Shirelles, and little Eva for ‘The Locomotion.’ And this particular group of actors (and) dancers are really super talented.”
Though it’s easy to call Beautiful a jukebox musical, Van Fleet thinks that label isn’t big enough for this show. Instead, she sees it as staying true to the essence of King’s life and her journey to discover her own voice, “culminating in this beautiful album of Tapestry that we all know and love.”
“This feels like a play where I get to sing Carole King songs,” Van Fleet said. “For me, personally, it's such a journey that we go on and it's very true to her life and her memoir.”
Jones says they are grateful to be who they are in this time in the theater.
“Because all these stories that we tell in theater, this one very much included, tells another layer of that enchilada,” they said. “What were the things that the advocates and the pioneers in the past did and worked through and schlepped through so that I could be who I am and I could tell their story as a more free individual.”
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” launches the Arvada Center's theatre season on Friday, Sept. 8 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 15.
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