Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

I thought for a long while about how I should write about this and in the end decided that I will just focus on my thoughts and observations without delving into the details of the actual story of the musical. This is mainly because  the plot is readily available in the musical's [wikipedia] and I dunno,  I'd like to believe we will be getting a BD/DVD release of it eventually (maybe with MUSEUM III?) and you can then see it for yourself.

I've gone to see plenty of musicals during the course of my life, mainly in Finland and London (perhaps some in the States, but can't really remember) and find them quite enjoyable - perhaps more so than traditional plays. This was my first time attending one in Japan though, so I was quite excited about what it would be like - I was very positively impressed.

A couple of things before I get to the meat of the matter, however, because after seeing Beautiful I made a some observations about musicals in general.

The first one being that some stories reeeeaaally suit the musical format more than others. Beautiful was really great portrayed as a musical, as it's about Carole King's life (first and foremost, her career) and the songs she's written and sung. Stories where music doesn't have a natural place feel slightly odd, though are still enjoyable.

The second thing I observed was the possibility of strong cultural dissonance. For example, let's take West Side Story or Beautiful - both of these musicals kick things off in 50's NYC and paint a colorful portrayal of the USA of that time. It feels funny to have such stories played by, let's say Finns, because our emotional spectrum is [a bit on the not so expressive side]. On the other hand, it is nice that musicals give permission for reserved cultures to express joy, grief, anger and all other kinds of emotions on a larger scale than normal. This holds true for seeing a musical in Japan by Japanese too - it is nice to see a reserved, polite and quiet culture let loose and have some fun on the stage.

Anyhow, let's get on with it. What did I actually think of Beautiful? How was Nana's musical debut?

Well, I confess I went in without really having any clue about what Beautiful was going to be about, I mean sure I knew it was about Carole King and who she was, but I didn't know too much about her as a person and what she had done to get to where she is today.

Also, I am ashamed to admit my confidence in Nana's performance wasn't as high as it should have been. I guess all the silliness of the Zachou Kouens, the straightforwardness she always shows with her feelings at concerts and the cute awkwardness that shows less and less every year during dance songs kind of made me have assumptions about her acting.

Needless to say, I was completely blown away. Nana had worked hard for this, like she does when it comes to everything else too, and she truly belonged on that stage with all the veteran musical actors. It was a joy witnessing this new side of her and all this talent blooming on that stage - from her superb acting to her powerful singing so full of raw emotion. Very rarely do I feel so overcome by someone's feelings as I did during her heart wrenching rendition of One Fine Day before intermission. Nana's voice is so ridiculously powerful that it just filled the whole hall with such force that you could feel it resonating inside your body. You can see a glimpse of it on the latter half of this:

I came to also understand why Nana had been so taken by Beautiful when she saw it back when she was in New York City with her mom some years ago. It is in many ways a reflection of her own life - the life of a woman who has a passion for music and the determination to follow her dream through the ups and downs of life. Both her and Carole King start unsure about themselves until finally they gain the confidence to stand on their own two feet and blossom to their full potential. For Nana, this moment came when Mishi-P and King Records pulled her away from the toxic environment her teacher had created for her, and for Carole it came when she broke loose from her personal and professional relationship with her husband Gerry and for the first time took full credit for her achievements from then on out.

It truly is an inspiring story of some incredibly creative people (Carole, Gerry, Cynthia and Barry), who we have to thank for a lot of the great songs of the past 50 years. You might not know these people by name, but you will most likely recognize some of the songs they have written.

Another thing that took me by surprise was the curtain call. Most of it was the usual fair that I have come to expect from musicals, but what I have never experienced before was the standing ovation given to the cast every time I went to see it (yes... I went to see it quite a few times). I wondered if it was because of Nana, but this was even done for her alternate, [Ayaka Hirahara]. Here's the first curtain call for the musical run:

Another thing I had never seen before at a musical, was how humble both Nana and Hirahara were in the small speeches they gave in the curtain calls and how much they appreciated us, their audience. I was really impressed and so touched. There was absolutely no pompousness present on that stage, which I have felt way too often.

That's all for my thoughts and observations regarding Nana's musical debut, but before I finish this post here's some additional thoughts. Like for one thing, I have to say that these guys were the best:

The way they captured TV music performances from that time period was truly amazing. I would always actually be waiting for the next time they would show up to perform one of Carole's & Gerry's or Cynthia's & Barry's songs. It was just way too fun to watch.

The stage sets were also really well made. I was really fascinated by the mechanics they had for making the piano glide from one end of the stage to another so smoothly. The piano was a constant presence in each location of the musical and its movement to a different spot on the stage always signified a change in location, which was very nicely used in portraying the back and forth between Carole and Gerry in their home/office to Barry and Cynthia in her apartment.

After the musical I also did some research on the actual people it portrayed and I have to say the real Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann are like the cutest pair ever. They may have had a rough start, as you'll see in the musical, but even after all these years they are going strong. Even Sonim, who played Cynthia, was really taken by the couple and [said as much on her Instagram]. You can follow their joint Twitter account under @mannweil if you wish.

Alrighty, think I am done now. So happy I finished this right in time for #LoveTheatreDay.

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