Welcome home for the holidays.
Indeed, the Broadway in Chicago touring version of Beautiful…The Carole King Musical does everything to live up to its name…and its tagline.
This is truly a beautiful biographical piece. Its magnificent storytelling success is credited first to hometown star Mueller, who transubstantiates into rather than merely portrays the songwriting legend King in her early creative years. Of course book writer Douglas McGrath deserves a nod as well.
Yes, this Mueller makes the role her own, which says a lot. Her sister Jessie Mueller won the 2014 Tony Award for her Broadway performance in the same role. And when auditions for the touring company were announced, it took a push from her agent and some good advice from her dad (Chicagoland actor Roger Mueller, who looked thrilled to play the role of proud dad on opening night in Chicago) to convince her it was the right call.
“To get to explore the spirit of Carole is a true gift,” Jessie said in an interview for Playbill. “I’m excited to see Abby do it in her own amazing way.”
Aren’t we all?! Along with the storytelling contributions of her amazing cast mates.
The story of Beautiful is well summarized in the show’s promotional material: “Before she was Carole King, superstar—she was Carole King, teenage songwriter. Her music would become the soundtrack to a generation.
“She fought her way into the record business as a teenager and, by the time she reached her 20s, had the husband of her dreams and a flourishing career writing hits for the biggest acts in rock ‘n’ roll. But it wasn’t until her personal life began to crack that she finally managed to find her true voice.”
This is no fluff 60s and 70s jukebox musical. Instead it chronicles the true story of an insecure Brooklyn girl’s unlikely rise to stardom. Included are King as a teenage mother, wife and part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin; their relationship with fellow songwriters and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann; and King’s emancipation from all she’d ever known, allowing her to become one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history. (A full synopsis and history may be read here.)
The sweet and tragic Goffin is wonderfully played by Liam Tobin, while the lovely Becky Gulsvig and quirky Ben Fankhauser take on the parts of Weil and Mann with requisite energy and necessary neuroses. Curt Bouril is a terrific as Don Kirschner as is Suzanne Grodner as King’s mother, Genie Klein.
The leads are surrounded and uplifted by an ensemble of high octane, young triple threats who sing and dance as the Drifters, the Shirelles, the Righteous Brothers and more. Take note of these names; many will headline one day: Mark Banik, Ashley Blanchet, Sarah Bockel, Andrew Brewer, Britney Coleman, Rebecca E. Covington, Josh A Dawson, John Michael Dias, Ryan Farnsworth, Rosharra Francis, Jay McKenzie, Aliana Mills, Paris Nix, Noah J. Ricketts, Nasia Thomas, Salisha Thomas, Delaney Westfall and Dashaun Young.
Together, this fabulous cast takes their audience through the best possible mix tape of 60s music. “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Who Put the Bomp,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “On Broadway,” “The Locomotion,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “One Fine Day,” “Walking in the Rain,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” are examples of some of the songs written by this prolific songwriting quartet. All are performed exquisitely in Beautiful.
Faced paced changes of extraordinary costumes by Alejo Vietti complement the cool, versatile, geometric, metallic set designed by Derek McLane and spotlighted by Peter Kaczorowski. Brian Ronan‘s sound is crisply flawless.
With a nice 12-week run in Mueller’s home city, there is truly no reason for local patrons of musical theatre to miss this stupendous show.
Because when Mueller as King intones to Mann and Weil before she moves to LA, “You’ve got a friend in me…you’ve got a friend indeed…” it’s pretty clear she’s singing to each audience member individually.
And that’s some kind of wonderful musical theatre.
Broadway in Chicago’s production of “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical” runs through February 21 at the oriental Theatre, 24. W. Raldolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets ($30 – $140) are available online here or by phone at (800) 775-2000.