PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: It's Good to Be the King of Beautiful

By Harry Haun
13 Jan 2014

Jarrod Spector
Photo by Monica Simoes

Tony-winning set designer Derek McLane created the music-writing world of the '60s out of a single line of dialogue in the script. "In the beginning," he recalled, "when Carole King describes going to Times Square, she says, 'It's like a factory, but they make songs.' And that's what I tried to do on stage. I thought, 'What does a factory where they make songs look like?'"

It turns out to look like a multi-leveled warehouse, with sliding panels that helps the rapid-fire change of scenes and allows for a variety of dazzling color lights. "Peter [Kaczorowski, the lighting designer] did a gorgeous job," he beamed. "There are a lot of scene transitions in the show. We go to a lot of different places during the evening. I lost count, there were so many."

Having assisted Walter Bobbie and others on Main Stem enterprises, Marc Bruni took his first giant step as a Broadway director with Beautiful. "It's been like a — not like, but actually — a dream for me," he said. "Watching the show tonight was an incredible experience. I didn't sit. I stood in the back. To see the culmination of so many people's talents coming together — that's what I love about musicals. They're such a collaborative effort. They require the talents of everybody coming together. To have this extraordinary design team and this incredible cast is just amazing."

Beautiful gives the pop songs of the period a lavish airing and still makes a creditable pass at portraying the harsh realities of the record world — the best since Jersey Boys.

Douglas McGrath is the writer who has provided the human stick-em that holds the production numbers in place, allowing authentic glimpses into real (and still living) people. "When I got on the project," said director Bruni, "I started with Draft #11, and last night we were up to Draft #57. Constantly, there are new things. New lines were going in up until just a few days ago. Hopefully, we tell a story that touches people, but it's a populist entertainment that's intended to reach a mass audience. I feel we're in an era where there's an attention span that's fairly short, and so to make sure the rate of new ideas is happening at a high rate is very, very important."

Anika Larsen
photo by Monica Simoes

McGrath, who is now getting around to his Broadway debut after scads of plays and screenplays, based his musical books on interviews he personally conducted with the principals. "The heart is the linking feature of all four, so I knew the story had to have that," he said. "My struggle for a long time was how to tell the story in a way that honored the truth of it and still brought the feelings out in it. Two really big things I had to figure out: What the story was actually going to be — because there were a lot of events in their lives that I couldn't include — and where the songs would fit in them. I tried always to put them in, according to the context of their lives at that particular moment."

The writer sprang from some unexpected West Texas roots. He made his acting debut as a seventh grader in a Midland Community Theatre production of Life With Father and has led a pretty unchartered professional life. The top celebs at the opening were friends of his — Woody Allen, with whom he wrote the original Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Bullets Over Broadway" (which begins previews March 11) and Nathan Lane, whom he directed in the 2002 film "Nicholas Nickleby".

Other first nighters included Peter Asher; Her Curliness, Bernadette Peters; Kinky Boots Tony winner Billy Porter, in regular attire (and shoes); Sheila Kirshner, widow of the boss of the songwriting Fab Four; Sara Bareilles; Next to Normal Tony winner Alice Ripley; MSNBC's beefcake broadcaster, Thomas Roberts; a bespectacled Jerry Seinfeld; Oscar-winning Grammy winner Phil (Tarzan) Collins, with a familiar Jane on his arm (Channel 2's Dana Tyler, who stood demurely off to the side while the paparazzi had their way with him); Katie Couric, flashing that killer smile to a fraction of the photographers before rushing into the theatre with her date; Darlene Love; a smartly befurred record mogul Clive Davis, who observed the rise of King from a distance, darn it!; Rob Shuter; and Hoda Kotb, stunningly red-coated, fanning herself with her hand as she left the theatre, mummering "More, more, more!"

The most incredulous red-carpet spectacle of the evening was the sight of Bill Bratton, our brand-new police commish, being escorted into the theatre by The Post's Michael Riedel. That one I'm sending to Mr. Ripley.