The national touring production of Beautiful–The Carole King Musical opened Wednesday night on its first stop–Chicago’s Oriental Theatre. A full house was on-hand for the show that’s been taking Broadway by storm since its opening nearly two years ago at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre–garnering a host of Tony and Drama Desk Awards, plus the 2015 Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album.
The amazing and beautiful story covers King’s early years when she changed her name from Carol Klein to Carole King–breaking into the tough record business as a teenager.
By the time the Brooklyn-born Carole entered New York’s Queens College, she was already an accomplished classical pianist and had written a number of pop tunes. These were the songs she brought to the producers at the Brill Building where aspiring song writers including Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller gained fame.
Brill was the “music factory” of the times where an aspiring song writer could “do it all” from making the rounds of publishers (165 in 1962); put together a quick arrangement; book a studio; and cut a demo.
King met her future husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, a charismatic young lyricist at Queens and like everything else in her young life things moved fast. Soon, she become pregnant, married Gerry and wrote her first number-one hit (penned with Gerry) ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ while only 17.
During their ten-year marriage and partnership, the Goffin, King pair created more than 100 hit songs for groups including the Shirelles, the Drifters, the Monkees, the Righteous Brothers, the Byrds, Herman’s Hermits, and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Some of their chart topping hits included: “Take Care of My Baby” (1961), “Up on the Roof” (1962), “The Loco-Motion” (1962), “One Fine Day” (1963), and “I’m into Something Good” (1964).
The Chicago production, part of the first national tour for Beautiful–The Carole King Musical is just about as good as it gets. Big sister Abby Mueller–part of Chicago’s talented acting family–plays the role of Carole–the role played by her sister Jessie in New York.
If anyone had doubts about big sister, Abby stepping into the role after her sister won the Tony, they need not worry. Abby embodied the passion and sensitivity of King in a pitch perfect performance.
Liam Tobin as husband Gerry Goffin, her troubled but talented partner in marriage and work was believable and honest.
The couple’s friends and at times nemeses the song-writing and husband and wife team of Cynthia Weill (Becky Gulsvig) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhause) were spot-on.
Boss Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril) Dimension Records was a tough boss but showed compassion and support when needed. Suzanne Grodner was a hoot as Carole’s stereotype of a Jewish mother.
The feel-good musical-bio is filled with a host of King’s most popular hits including ‘Uptown,’ ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,’ ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ and more.
Even though the jukebox style musical jumps from tune to tune the storyline stands up melding seamlessly between the story and songs.
King is initially unsure and wonders how she’ll go on after her marriage to Goffin dissolves. With a little help from her friends she learns to get back on her feet and literally “finds her voice” when she is cajoled into singing “It’s Too Late” at the intimate Bitter End in Greenwich Village which leads to a recording career.
In 1971, her popular album “Tapestry,” wins a Grammy Award.
Next stop, Carnegie Hall.
All this before the age of 30.
What: Beautiful–The Carole King Musical
Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.
When: now through Feb. 21, 2016
Tickets: $38-$182,Broadway in Chicago or 800-775-2000
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email
If you would like to keep in touch with what’s happening in Chicago, like us on Facebook or subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email. To subscribe, type your email address in the box below and click the “create subscription” button. Our list is completely spam free, and you