By Barry Reszel
Continuing Chicagoland’s leading lady connection to the brilliant biopic, Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, Sarah Bockel‘s earthy, gutsy depiction of King does everything to make audiences know she’s a natural (woman).
Following Evanston’s Jessie Mueller (originated Broadway role) and Abby Mueller (King on the first national tour), Bockel in this second national tour (presented by Broadway in Chicago through January 28) oozes talent in her vocals and acting, sharing the life and song of the venerable singer-songwriter from 1968, when she was 16, to 1971, following the release of her hit album, Tapestry.
Indeed this Broadway in Chicago homecoming (the first tour starring Abby Mueller was here two years ago) is every bit as beautiful as the originals. It all begins with Bockel, who was an ensemble member of that first tour and whose resume has a plethora of Chicagoland credits. Moving King through these most formative years, from shy, young schoolgirl; teen bride and mother; jilted wife; and reluctant performer to a masterful composer and entertainer is accomplished with subtle, professional nuance.
Paired with leading man Andrew Brewer as lyricist husband Gerry Goffin, the two create scenes of young couple realism set to their own amazing songbook. Employing a technique that offers insight into the songwriting process, then bursts out the skillfully recorded version by such musicians as the Shirelles, the Drifters, Janelle Woods, Little Eva and The Righteous Brothers, among others, gives audiences a sense of just how many pop songs were written by this talented couple and their fellow songwriting friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (played to perfection by Jacob Heimer and Sarah Goeke).
A full song list, along with a synopsis and production of this wonderful, three-time-Tony-winning jukebox musical, written by Douglas McGrath, may be read here.
What this technique also calls to mind is the magnificent assemblage of talent across this musical’s entire ensemble. Adding to the expertise of the four actors playing the outstanding songwriters are James Clow as the endearingly fatherly Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner as Carole’s hilariously busybody mother, Genie King. And playing parts of every musical group who ever recorded a King/Goffin or Mann/Weil tune in the 1960s are McKinleigh Alden Abraham, Jordan Edwin André, TyNIA René Brandon, Josh A. Dawson, John Michael Diaz, Fatt Faucher, Kaylee Harwood, Willie Hill, Alia Hodge, James Michael Lambert, Tracie Elaine Lee, Marla Louissaint, Jay McKenzie, Dimitri Joseph Moise, Aashley Morgan, Elena Ricardo, Avery Smith, Calaif St. Aubyn, Alexis Tidwell and Kristopher Stanley Ward.
These talented folks are supported with equal backstage prowess—from Alejo Vietti’s gorgeous costumes and Charles G. LaPointe’s wig/hair stylings to a bright, brilliant set designed by Derek McLane and magically lit by Peter Kaczorowski. Indeed Director Marc Bruni and Choreographer Josh Prince hit their own high notes as their cast takes audiences through a cavalcade of period pop music including such songs as “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Up on the Roof,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “One Fine Day,” “On Broadway,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “You’ve Got a Friend,” among so many, many more. It’s little wonder the original cast album is a Grammy winner, too.
All this written is the rationale, the supporting evidence, leading to the conclusion that patrons of musical theatre ought not miss this lovely expression of musical theatre.
But if the words here aren’t convincing enough, patrons should buy tickets for the best reason of all: Everyone needs a little more Beautiful in life, and it’s hard to come by a better reminder of its presence than Bockel as King singing, “Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, all you’ve got to do is call…”
Broadway in Chicago presents “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical,” through January 28 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.