Tapestry: The Music of Carole King
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., July 14, 2000
The Warp and Woof of Who We Are
Tapestry: The Music of Carole King:
Zachary Scott Theatre Kleberg Stage,
through August 13
Running time: 2 hrs, 10 min
It's a weird thing when a song speaks to you. One moment the music on the radio or stereo is just another impersonal mix of tune and lyric, then suddenly it's a melodic expression of your deepest emotions, sentiments drawn from the innermost chamber of your heart. You cannot fathom how some stranger could have understood and captured your experience with such precision, such intimacy, but there it is, whispering in your ear what you feel, what you've lived. It's odd, but at the same time it's comforting, liberating, redemptive. Someone else has been there. You're not alone.
That strange but reassuring experience is described again and again in the Zachary Scott Theatre Center's original production Tapestry: The Music of Carole King. In a film projected on the theatre's back wall, various women relate episodes in which songs from the Carole King album Tapestry connected profoundly with them: how "It's Too Late" awakened another to a dead-end romance; how "Beautiful" inspired one to stop seeking approval from men; how "You've Got a Friend" helped another express to her mom the deep bond they share. King's songs gave these women solace, gave them strength, and with those gifts they shaped their lives.
These film memories of heartache, discovery, and growth, all linked to that landmark 1971 album, add an unexpected dimension to this theatrical celebration of a pop music sensation. In putting together a revue of King's music, it would have been easy for Zach artistic director Dave Steakley to have assembled one of his crack ensembles and had it belt out pop hit after pop hit in the tommy-gun style of Rockin' Christmas Party. But Steakley saw something more in this material, a touchstone of personal discovery for a generation of women, and he made room -- in the artful film segments directed by David Layton -- for them to share its meaning.
Oh, Steakley still gives us the crack ensemble belting out pop hit after pop hit. Woven between the film scenes, a cast of singers whose voices can rattle your soul -- Zach stars Janis Stinson, Andra Mitrovich, Rebecca Schoolar, and Meta Rosen, and newcomers Susanne Abbott and Bonnie Bishop -- mill around an onstage piano (commanded by an appealingly lively Allen Robertson) and deliver King's music with a wealth of power, style, and emotion. In fact, their renditions are so deeply felt that they almost constitute their own testaments to the composer, stories about King's impact on these gifted singers told through the piercing cry, the growl, the exuberant shout.
This is personal for the women onscreen and onstage, and Steakley allows the audience to share that by creating an informal ambience in the Kleberg: a living-room setting on the stage floor, with plush easy chairs and love seats for the singers and musicians (part of a warm, lovely set by Michael Raiford) and time before the show for audience members to mingle with the performers. It's a homey space, in which all -- men, too -- are welcome to share their personal connection with King.
All this may sound to some like just "therapy theatre," fuzzy, feel-good, hug-ourselves, pop psychology stage exhibitionism masquerading as art. But while it is true that Tapestry is all women talking about themselves, about being women and affirming their womanhood, what these women have to say matters. They give us an oral history of a time when women were questioning their place in society, discovering new roles for themselves in it, taking their independence to new levels. The struggle they recall was very real, real for women throughout this country, and it deserves to be remembered. And the relationship of these songs to that struggle speaks to the impact that art -- even the mass-produced commercial art of pop culture -- can have in our lives.
Tapestry: The Music of Carole King puts us at that intersection of art and identity, where a work insinuates itself into our lives to become part of us, woven into the warp and woof of who we are. What was it Noél Coward said? "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." Yes, potent enough to change lives, to shape our identity.