Like most biographical jukebox stage shows, the strength of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is in its nostalgic score of song hits, which constitutes the soundtrack of the Baby Boomer generation’s youth.
The script, which chronicles King’s early life and career, as well as that of her husband-lyricist Gerry Goffin and their friendly songwriting competitors, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, is rudimentary at best by comparison.
Still, at the Kravis Center, where the Tony Award-winning show continues through Sunday, the songs are so well performed — by King surrogate Julia Knitel and by stand-ins for the Drifters, the Shirelles and others who rose up the charts with King-Goffin pop compositions — that theatergoers will be too entertained to object much about the clunky storytelling.
Following a taste of King’s climactic Carnegie Hall solo concert (“So Far Away”), the narrative begins with Brooklyn teen Carole Klein, who yearns to pen songs despite the objections of her overprotective mother. Her career kicks into gear when she presents herself at 1650 Broadway — a famed music factory — where she quickly gains a producer, Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril), and a songwriting and domestic partner, Goffin (Liam Tobin).
While it offers an outline of King and Goffin’s upward climb, the first act settles for a flat structure of songwriting followed by a flashy presentation of the number by the group that recorded it. With King remaining in the background, many will be surprised that she wrote such hits as “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Up on the Roof” and “Take Good Care of My Baby.”
Book writer Douglas McGrath (co-screenwriter of Bullets Over Broadway) is also sketchy with his characters. Carole is timid and conventional, Gerry is fidelity-challenged, Barry is a neurotic hypochondriac and Cynthia is perky and quirky. But boy, could they churn out catchy tunes on demand.
Beautiful really finds its footing in the second act, as King walks out on philandering Goffin, turns her heartache into a deeply personal song cycle (“Tapestry”) that a generation relates to and, perhaps most importantly, she gives herself permission to step into the spotlight and perform these songs.
On Broadway, Beautiful turned Jessie Mueller into a Tony-winning star. Her sister Abby opened the tour and will soon step into the New York company, which is still running after three years. At the Kravis is yet another singing dynamo, Knitel, who convincingly becomes King thanks to a slight Brooklyn accent, a succession of wigs from ponytail to frizzy mane and leather-lunged vocals that include “It’s Too Late,” “Natural Woman” and, of course, the title number.
Director Marc Bruni keeps the production moving, even when the script is inert, and choreographer Josh Prince delivers the precision moves of the various ’60s singing groups who covered King’s earliest output. Beautiful is certainly a slick package, but the prime reason it has met with such success is King’s song trunk of royal riches.
BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL, Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday. Tickets: $32 and up. 561-832-7469.