Beautiful things: Reflections at a Carole King musical

I’m not a big crier. I usually receive sad stories and bittersweet twists in a matter of fact way. I am especially resistant to a movie or show that attempts to contrive or construct certain emotional responses. Just tell the story and I’ll decide how I feel. And I don’t usually feel like crying.

I don’t have anything against crying. A few examples of things that have always brought me to tears are when all the cars pull over to let an emergency vehicle pass, curtain calls, standing ovations, and people singing together, especially children.

Despite not being a crier, and being surrounded by people who probably are criers (because it seems like most people are, and they tend to look at me like I must have a heart of stone sometimes) I think I was the only one who cried all the way through Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at DPAC last week. At least, I didn’t see anyone else wiping away tears or hear sniffling like you might at Les Miserables or Dear Evan Hansen.

Carole King (photo credit: Elissa Kline)

Maybe it was nostalgia for the music. These were true oldies, from before my time, that I heard as a kid on family road trips from the back seat. Songs that I know every word to, along with the rest of the audience. Nostalgia can make me smile or sigh, but it doesn’t usually make me cry.

The first tears came during the 3rd number, 1650 Broadway Medley, which highlights some of the early musical discoveries of the Man with the Golden Ear, Don Kirshner. It’s a medley of familiar songs, one after the other and eventually all at once. It’s a moving arrangement of Splish Splash, Poison Ivey, Love Potion Number Nine, and Stupid Cupid, among other touching songs of the late ’50s.

The second half was a washout in terms of tears, but the steadiest flow was when Carole King (played convincingly by Sarah Bockel) first sang her own song, It’s Too Late, in public. (What if the real Carole King had never taken that chance? The world might have been denied the beautifully unique sound of her full, raspy, r-centric twang!) She had just started to write lyrics for her own melodies since her break-up with husband/lyricist Gerry Goffin. Bockel’s performance was a window to the past, to a vulnerable Carole King who had the courage to be honest about her own life and to share it with the world in her own voice.

Wiping tears off my cheek while the Monkees’ sang Pleasant Valley Sunday during Beautiful I wondered what about this performance was so sentimental. What does it have in common with other things that might bring tears?

I thought it might be quality of performance. Especially virtuosic performers must have the power to move me to tears. But then I remembered dabbing water from my eyes the previous week watching preschoolers skip in circles with wild abandon to practice for their upcoming dance recital. Their toes weren’t pointed, they weren’t moving in unison or jumping very high, so it wasn’t their virtuosity that made me cry.

Sometimes performers smile because they’re told to. There is a tension about their faces as they do the work of appearing happy. Those skipping preschoolers that made me cry had genuine smiles. There is no faking the joy of skipping in circles to Disney tunes in a wide-open space with friends. Theirs was a performance of truth and collective joy.

So I cried some more at the Carole King musical when I realized that it was also a performance of truth and collective joy, just like the preschoolers’. Participation in artistic expression whether from the audience or the stage, or from the gallery or the studio, is participation in a shared eternal and limitless youth. We go to conservatories to study, practice and become skillful in our art, but until that skill is combined with the unbridled joy and truth of a skipping preschooler, it is just a matter of fact.

I leave you with a video and the lyrics to the title song of the Carole King musical.

You’ve got to get up every morning
With a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes you will
That you’re beautiful, as you feel
Waiting at the station with a workday wind a-blowing
I’ve got nothing to do but watch the passers-by
Mirrored in their faces I see frustration growing
And they don’t see it showing, why do I?
You’ve got to get up every morning
With a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes you will
That you’re beautiful as you feel
I have often asked myself the reason for sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby
If there’s any answer, maybe love can end the madness
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try
You’ve got to get up every morning
With a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes you will
That you’re beautiful
You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful as you feel
Songwriters: Carole King
Beautiful lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

 

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