Carol King is celebrated rather than imitated through this all-male trio now performing at Florida Studio Theatre.
“Carole’s Kings” celebrates the tapestry of Carole King’s music at Florida Studio Theatre. (With a title like that, what else would you expect?) But this traveling cabaret revue does the unexpected. King’s tunes are sung by a male trio: Jordan Aragon, Trey Harrington and Ken Lear.
This struck me as a gimmick at first. But it forced me to consider a question: How do you separate a singer-songwriter from their songs?
A good singer-songwriter pours their heart and soul into their music. If the artist is famous, separating the music from the singer-songwriter’s persona is tough. When another artist performs their songs, you might love it or hate it. But you’re always comparing the copy to the original. If the cover is wildly different, your inner fan feels cheated. If it’s close, the homage feels like an imitation. As a million Elvis clones can tell you.
That colors the experience of any Carole King revue. When a woman sings her songs, it feels like she’s playing Carole King’s character. (Three women would feel like Carole King triplets.) When the singers are three tuxedo-wearing guys, there’s no danger of that.
The break from King’s persona made me rethink her artistry.
My sense of her singer-songwriter persona came from “Tapestry,” “Fantasy” and other albums she released in the 1970s — that prolific time when King collaborated, performed and hung out with James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and other folk-rock icons. But before she got on stage and in front of the cameras, King (and first husband Gerry Goffin) was a songwriter — period. And a hit-making machine for other singers and groups.
King and Goffin wrote chart-toppers for The Shirelles (“Will You Still Love Me?”), The Drifters “Up on the Roof”), Little Eva (“Loco-Motion”) and, believe it not, The Monkeys (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”—the Prefab Foursome’s anthem against suburban conformity.) The list goes on. And on …
This revue opened my eyes to King’s universality. She sings of herself, but her songs belong to everybody. With a few obvious exceptions, her tunes apply to every permutation of the human equation.
“Universality” is a tough nut to crack. If we all knew the secret, we’d all be hit-making machines. A song has to tell a specific story. Simultaneously, listeners and other performers need to make that story their own. King, somehow, pulled it off.
Revelations aside, it’s a great show.
The trio dutifully gets King’s biography across without making it feel like they’re reading a homework assignment. Their self-mocking patois (written by two Second City talents) never seems fake or forced. Tight artistic oversight is provided by Catherine Randazzo, who avoids lounge lizard slickness. (Credit for the original concept goes to D.J. Bucciarelli of 2A Productions.)
Carole King is inimitable. This show offers no substitutes. Instead, it draws your attention to the original.
That’s the best homage there is.