Stage Review: “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” – Kansas City

“Beautiful – The Carole King Musical”
The Music Hall, Kansas City, Missouri
March 28, 2017

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

What can I tell you about Carole King that you probably don’t already know? Her 1971 album “Tapestry” has sold over 25 million copies, making it one of the most successful albums of all time. It earned four Grammy Awards, was the second highest selling album of 1971 (behind “Jesus Christ Superstar”) and spent an amazing 313 weeks on the Billboard charts, second only to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” But what was Carole King like before she became CAROLE KING?

When we meet Carole Klein (Julia Knitel) she is 16 and writing songs on the living room piano. Her mother wants her to be a teacher but she allows Carole to take her latest composition into New York City to try and sell. There she meets music publisher Don Kirshner (James Clow) who likes the song and buys it. Having skipped two grades in high school, Carole is a freshman in college and it is here that she meets Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), who dabbles in writing song lyrics. Soon the two are a couple, both personally and professionally. They compete with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil (Erika Olsen) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser). From the beginnings of rock and roll through the fabulous 60s they created some of the greatest music of all time, and “Beautiful” captures those songs perfectly.

You can have great music but if the cast is not up to snuff it doesn’t matter. If you don’t believe me, you should have been with me at a performance of “Les Miserables” where the little boy playing Gavroche was so bad that I actually applauded when he was shot. But this isn’t a problem here. Ms. Knitel is spot-on perfect as King. She plays her like the young, innocent woman she was, gradually growing more and more as her life takes various turns. Vocally she is amazing, belting out song after song with a voice that could easily hit the back row of the balcony without a microphone. Tobin and Fankhauser play Goffin and Mann with quiet vulnerabilities, especially when things do not seem to be going their way. Ms. Olsen is a firecracker on stage while James Clow does his best to keep things together, adding humor and emotion to a character many of us think we know but clearly don’t. (You can read my interview with Mr. Clow here)

Couple these performances with such classic songs as “So Far Away,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” Up on the Roof,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and over 20 more and you have a genuine toe-tapping musical that the audience can – and does – sing along to.

“Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” continues in Kansas City through April 2. For tickets go here.

Additional stops on the tour:
April 4-9 in Omaha, Nebraska
April 12-16 in Schenactady, New York
April 18-23 in Syracuse, New York
April 21-30 in Richmond, Virginia

Blu-ray Review “Beautiful Creatures”

Actors: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum
Directors: Richard Lagravenese
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Run Time: 124 minutes

Film: 2 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Ever since “The Twilight Saga” has been done, Hollywood has been searching for the next “Twilight”. “Beautiful Creatures” is the latest in a long line of recent YA book adaptations to film. I have to admit, I have seen the “Twilight” films and I enjoyed them all (except “Breaking Dawn: Part 1”). Ever since I saw the trailers for “Beautiful Creatures”, I thought it was going to be very painful to watch…and I was right. The film runs over two hours long and it really drags hard. Jeremy Irons is always a pleasure to watch on the big screen but he hides his fantastic accent with a not so fantastic Southern one. The rest of the cast is a quite a bore, especially our two leads. Fans of the YA book series might enjoy and some female tweens but otherwise steer clear.

Official Premise: When newcomer Lena Duchannes arrives in the small town of Gatlin she quickly captures the attention of Ethan Wate, who only wants to escape what he views as a boring and dead end town. He quickly gets more than he bargained for, as Lena possesses strange powers that have long kept her at a distance from others in her life. Lena and Ethan are drawn together, but their budding romance is threatened by the dangers posed by Lena’s being a Caster and her family’s Dark powers, for upon her sixteenth birthday Lena must undergo the Claiming, a process that will decide her fate forever: Light or Dark.

I have to say no matter if I like the film or not Warner Bros delivered a nice Blu-ray presentation amongst its Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet digital copy combo pack. The 1080p transfer looks sharp and works well with the visual effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track works with the action and the film’s score. The special features are not too bad either and are very featurette drive.  There are a few deleted scenes, but not sure how this film could have been longer.  The featurettes included are “Book to Screen”, “The Casters”,  “Between Two Worlds”,  “Forbidden Romance”, “Alternate Worlds” and “Designing the Costumes”.  There is nice coverage here over the whole production with cast and crew.  Lastly there are Theatrical Trailers and a Book Trailer: “Icons” by Margaret Stohl included.

Beautiful Creatures available on Blu-Ray 5/21/13 at WB Shop http://bit.ly/Xo9tAW

Oleander’s Thomas Flowers talks about latest album “Something Beautiful”

Thomas Flowers is the lead vocalist for the group Oleander. The group burst on to the scene in the mid nineties with their hit song “Why I’m Here”. In 2004 the group went on an unofficial hiatus while Flowers and the rest of the band worked on other projects. On April 16th the band is set to release their first studio album in 10 years titled “Something Beautiful” and Media Mikes was able to talk with Thomas recently about the bands time off and the new album.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about why the band decided to take such a long break between albums?
Thomas Flowers: The band broke away from our obligations regarding the music industry but we never broke up as a band. We wanted to take time off as we all enjoy being home so much. We just kept extending that time off. At the same time we felt we were giving ourselves the opportunities to create some life experiences that we could then draw upon when we decided to switch back in to band mode. That break gave us a nice body of experiences that we could draw on. For me as a lyricist the break was very good. When we stepped back in to things the reason was to just get back in there as a band and play and have fun. Within 15 minutes we had the start of the song “Daylight”. It was at that point that we knew we had something going. There was a lot of excitement during those sessions and it was great to get back to what made us want to play music in the first place.

AL: What has it been like working on the new album?
TF: The creative process from start to finish was probably the easiest and most enjoyable album we have put together. We had zero pressure and all the time in the world to work on this record and we took advantage of that. We wanted to make sure that we all were completely satisfied with every aspect of each song. When you hear this album I think people will really understand what I am talking about. We spent as much time with each particular track as we felt necessary. This was something that we were never really able to do before due to limited budgets and specific time lines.

AL: Was it difficult in anyway going back in to the studio after such an extended break?
TF: No. It all felt very natural. The studio and rehearsal room is an environment that we thrive in. For me the most enjoyable part of the record cycle is the writing and recording process. Even under the stress that comes with doing an album I still feel very comfortable being in the studio working. That’s really where the creative process is.

AL: Is the material that makes up the new album songs you have had for awhile or did these songs come out of just jamming together again?
TF: It was all stuff that came from getting back together. Certainly we all would have separate ideas but then we would collaborate. We have gotten to the point as a band where we are very collaborative and work quite well together. Everybody contributed to each song. This was something that we always kind of strived for as we wanted the songs to reflect each of us. Musically we really came together as a band.

AL: What made you choose “Something Beautiful” as the album’s first single?
TF: Our job is defined by writing and recording the songs that we feel are the best ones we come up with. Once that is done we take the finished project to our label. From there they give us feedback as to what they think might be the best song to release. It came down to the songs “Never Too Late” and “Something Beautiful”. They felt “Something Beautiful” had a little bit more potential impact with radio. We liked both songs so we were happy choosing either one.

AL: What type of tour plans do you guys have in the works?
TF: We have a few dates scheduled in Texas at some festivals where we will be playing with Bush. After that we come back home and get ready for our album release party in Sacramento. In May we will be playing at “Rock on the Range” in Ohio. We plan to be very busy touring this year but we want to make sure that we are smart about how we do it. For years we travelled all over racking up expenses. This time around we want to be more conscientious about how we do things. The days of jumping in a van and playing for a case of beer have long since passed. (Laughs)

AL: Looking back on your career thus far how do you think the band has changed since things first took off for you?
TF: Comparatively we were kids when we wrote and released “February Sun”. We were very fortunate that the album had such an impact on radio and listeners. At the start outside of playing live we were clueless about the industry. We learned a lot over the 10 years we were active and stepping back in to the game now we feel we are more mature and savvy when it comes to not only what is expected of us but also what options are available to us today. We are more aware of the things that help make revenue for the band and not just for the label. Social media is another big change. I wish it was something we had back in the day. When we were first started the only social media you had was touring. That was again limited to the people who came to the shows night to night and when we left the venue we were out of sight out of mind. Social media is a great opportunity for us to connect with our fans and potential fans. We are pretty aggressive with updates and answering people’s requests as it not only puts us in touch with fans that have followed the band for some time and it also opens us up to new listeners.

CD Review: Oleander “Something Beautiful”

Oleander
“Something Beautiful”
Carved Records
Tracks: 11

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

The mid 90’s post-grunge group Oleander is back with their first new album in 10 years. “Something Beautiful” features 11 new tracks by the band that first burst on to the scene with the hit single “Why I’m Here” off the album titled “February Son”. “Something Beautiful” is the first release from the band since signing to Carved Records and is the follow up release to the album “Joy Ride” which was released in 2003.

When a band steps out of the public eye for an extended amount of time it can often be hard to pull things back together and reemerge as the act they once were. In the case of Oleander they not only still sound great but they sound even better! Each of the 11 tracks on “Something Beautiful” seems to be on the verge of being a hit. Vocalist Thomas Flowers, bassist Doug Eldridge, rhythm guitarist Ric Ivanisevich, drummer Steve Brown and lead guitarist Rich Mouser are all certainly at the top of their game on this recording. With catchy radio friendly songs like “Something Beautiful” and “Until It’s Over” to edgier songs such as “Bulletproof” and “Never Too Late” the band does a great job including a little something for everyone.

Some bands find long periods time off between albums detrimental to their careers however Oleander seem to be like a fine wine that only gets better with age. “Something Beautiful” is not only accessible to first time listeners but will take long time Oleander fans back to their teens when they first discovered the band.

Track Listing:
1.) Fight
2.) Something Beautiful
3.) Bulletproof
4.) Until It’s Over
5.) Never Too Late
6.) Save The Best
7.) Save Me
8.) You Are the One
9.) Daylight
10.) Second Best Wishes
11.) Where Do We Go From Here
12.) How Do We Say Goodbye

CD Review: James Durbin “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster”

James Durbin
“Memories of a Beautiful Disaster”
Wind-Up
Producer: Howard Benson
Tracks: 11

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” is the first release from American Idol: Season 10 contestant James Durbin. The album is being released via Wind-Up records and features 11 original tracks produced by Howard Benson. The iTunes digital version of “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” features two additional bonus tracks not included on the CD release.

Not being a fan of “American Idol” I am at times a little unfamiliar with those involved with the show. In this case I had heard of James Durbin but I still wasn’t too sure what to expect from his album. Upon my first listen I was immediately drawn in. “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” features a collection of songs in a variety of styles all of which seem to really fit Durbin’s voice perfectly. Tracks such as “Everything Burns” the hard rocking “Higher Than Heaven” and “Outcast” featuring Motley Crue guitarist Mick Mars were definitely personal favorites. The album has a great flow while showcasing producer Howard Benson’s keen ear. Fans of “American Idol” will definitely want to pick this album for their collections. While those not familiar with the show or with James’s work will also want to check this album out as it really is great piece of work and has a little something for everyone.

Track Listing:
1.) Higher Than Heaven
2.) All I Want
3.) Love In Ruins
4.) Right Behind You
5.) Love Me Bad
6.) Deeper
7.) May
8.) Screaming
9.) Outcast
10.) Everything Burns
11.) Stand Up
12.) Liberate (ITunes Bonus)
13.) Back For More (ITunes Bonus)

Also be sure to check out our interview with James Durbin located in the interview portion of the site.