In the Suburbs: This King was the queen of pop songwriters
Published 6:56 am, Sunday, September 14, 2014
On a recent Saturday evening, my brother and sister-in-law from Washington, D.C., joined us in Manhattan for a belated celebration of my 70th birthday with dinner (a gift from my younger brother and his wife) and tickets to the amazing Carole King musical, "Beautiful."
It was more than a spectacular evening. It was unforgettable. Just being back in Manhattan for the first time in nearly two years was exciting. But the show was amazing.
"Beautiful" chronicles the meteoric rise of singer/songwriter King and her then-husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin, plus their rivalry with another song-writing team, Mann and Weil.
This was a foot stomping, hand-clapping production, rivaled only by "Jersey Boys."
We learned from the playbill that King and Goffin were married in 1959 and the same year wrote their first hit -- "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"-- sung by the popular 1950s and '60s quartet the Shirelles.
The playbill further says, "The duo penned more than 50 Top-40 hits including `The Locomotion,' `Natural Woman' and `Up on the Roof,' " which was made popular by The Drifters, one of my favorite quartets of the 1950s and '60s."
I had no idea that King and Goffin had written some of the classic hits that others performed and I enjoyed in high school and college. More than 400 of King's songs have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists, netting her 100 hit singles and six Grammys.
The four of us were blown away by the performance of Jesse Mueller, who won a Best Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of King. From the moment Mueller took the stage as a precocious teenager trying to sell her first song to a New York recording studio, the audience was hooked. And it only got better from there.
We kept worrying that people around us would get upset because we kept singing and clapping to so much of the music, but we weren't alone in our enthusiasm. So many in the audience seemed to be doing the same.
Mueller's captivating performance showed us King's drive and determination and long hours that produced songs that my wife and I still dance to. Mueller's theater background included a wealth of Chicago-area experience, as well as a stint with actor-musician Harry Connick Jr. in "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."
Jake Epstein did an amazing job as Gerry Goffin, portraying the intense, often painful relationship that King had with her husband. It was Goffin's genius as a lyricist blending with King's musical talent that fueled their rapid rise as composers.
Goffin and King were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
King really came into her own as a performed after she and Goffin separated and she moved to California with their two daughters. The rest of "Beautiful" was devoted to King finding her own voice and creating her most memorable album, "Tapestry" in 1971. We've loved listening to songs like that album's title track and "I Feel the Earth Move," "Beautiful," "You've Got a Friend," "It's Too Late" and "So Far Away," among others.
And when this amazing musical ended, we joined others in the audience for a standing ovation and an incredible encore of "I Feel the Earth Move," belted out by Mueller. Everyone was singing and clapping along with Mueller, who turned her microphone in the audience's direction.
We told my brother and sister-in-law that seeing this production was unforgettable and how great it was to be back in Manhattan, even if it was just for one night. We decided to grab dessert near the theater at a great place called Cafe Un Deux Trois. I used to eat at this place when I worked in the city many years ago, and the desserts are still great.
We told my brother and sister-in-law that we absolutely should do this kind of evening again before the end of the year -- not at their expense, of course. And we're hoping that will happen. What a night this was. We truly felt the earth move under our feet!
Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.