Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Dance Party: A Tapestry Of Rich And Royal Hue

Last week's Dance Party was inspired by the rather sad Tony losses of Tyne Daly and her Broadway show.  This week, then, it's only fair to celebrate one of the winners.
Jessie Mueller won the Tony last week, playing Carole King in Beautiful, which has supplanted Jersey Boys as Broadway's top jukebox musical. After a tryout in San Francisco, the show opened in New York in January; the reviews were fairly mixed, but Mueller's notices were glowing. Word of mouth was good, and the show eventually entered the Million Dollar Club (those shows which routinely gross over a million bucks a week).  Mueller's win as Best Actress in a Musical was assured when it was decided that Audra McDonald's performance was in a play, rather than a musical. 
I saw Jessie Mueller in her Broadway debut, less than three years ago, and since then, she has proven herself a substantial talent. 
Jessie won the Jeff Award (Chicago's
Tony) for She Loves Me, in a category in
which she was competing against her own
performance as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.

She was already one of the leading ladies of the Chicago theatre scene (though success in the regions does not automatically mean equal success in New York) when she was pegged to play a supporting role in the revamped On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.
I saw Mueller's Broadway debut right before it closed. This revival of On A Clear Day... changed kooky protagonist Daisy into kooky gay boy David, who was the reincarnation of a female big band singer. Harry Connick, Jr. fell in love with her, but not him. The show was a major disappointment, but our Jessie emerged smelling like a rose, and earned a Tony nod to boot. I wrote about seeing this show here.
I also saw this performance, with Mueller unrecognizable as
the mysterious lady from Ceylon. The gent playing her twin
brother is Andy Karl, currently flexing his muscles as
Broadway's Rocky. I wrote about seeing this revival of The
Mystery of Edwin Drood here.
Our heroine's next Broadway gig was another revival, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Following that limited engagement, she replaced Kelli O'Hara in Nice Work If You Can Get It.  In less than a year, she had three starring roles on Broadway.  This gal has been going places. 
Doesn't Matthew Broderick always look tired these days? But Jessie had another success, finishing out the run of Nice Work If You Can Get It. It was an ironic move for her, as one of her costars, Judy Kaye, had won the very Tony Award for which Mueller had been nominated earlier in the season for On A Clear Day. In another karmic twist, Jessie was replacing original leading lady Kelli O'Hara. A year later, the two of them would be competing for the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical.  O'Hara's show, The Bridges of Madison County, had already closed when Mueller won the award for Beautiful.
Last summer, NY's Shakespeare in the Park produced a dressed-down revival of Into The Woods, based on a recent British rethink. Here's Mueller as a decidedly dowdy Cinderella. The show did not make an anticipated move to Broadway, freeing our gal to feel the earth move under her feet as Carole King.
Jessie Mueller's current performance as Carole King has elevated her to the top tier of Broadway Leading Ladies, only a few years after arriving in New York. I have not seen Beautiful, but it would appear to have a long life, as long as Mueller stays with it. The show got even more publicity this week, when King's former husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin died.  Most of the songs in the score of Beautiful are written by the duo, including this week's Dance Party.
The buzz surrounding Beautiful: the Carole King Musical was strengthened by King herself, who rather coquettishly refused to see this musical depiction of her early life and career.  She even made the rounds of the talk shows, singing WITH the actress portraying her, but still claimed seeing the show would bring up too many sorrowful memories. She finally attended a performance in April, and surprised the cast onstage during the curtain call.  The crowd, and the cast, went wild. They launched into an impromptu rendition of "You've Got A Friend", which isn't even in the musical. It was a publicist's wet dream come true, as all the major news outlets covered the story. Box office receipts rose, and the show earned 7 Tony nominations.
This week's Dance Party comes from a performance given for the Today Show audience, and includes Mueller as King as well as actresses portraying the Shirelles. 
With the release of Tapestry,
King was no longer considered a songwriter in the back-
ground, she was now in the spotlight. The album spent 15
weeks at #1, and remained on Billboard's 200 chart for 40
years. The influence this album had on pop culture cannot be
overstated. Like other seminal records like Abbey Road,
Purple Rain, and Thriller, Tapestry will endure.

I have a lot of respect for Carole King, whose music became part of my life when her album Tapestry was released in 1971.  On it, she sang so many of the songs she had written for others;  the album was a smash and a defining moment of her career.  Apparently, Beautiful reveals the difficult time she had as an artist in the 50s and 60s, even as she was penning hit songs for the leading singers of the day.  I hope I can see the show before Mueller inevitably moves on, particularly since I have a personal connection to one of the performers.
Several years ago, I played Jacob (the father) in a DC production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The gent who played Joseph is the guy on the right, above, currently in the cast of Beautiful, playing one of the Drifters. I love the fact that Alan and his cohorts are joining the protest against the recent decision to dispense with the Tony for Sound Designers. It's no coincidence that the most recent Sound Design Award (and perhaps the final such award) was won by the sound designer of Beautiful.
So, at long last, please enjoy this week's Dance Party: