Review: Beautiful-The Carole King Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

| December 10, 2015

Abby Mueller stars as Carole King in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)          
      
Beautiful 

Book by Douglas McGrath
Music/Lyrics by Carole King, Gerry Goffin,
   Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil 
Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
thru Feb 21  |  tix: $37-$137   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
    


    
  

Soaring performances struggle to overcome show’s flaws

  

    
Broadway in Chicago presents
    
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

Review by Catey Sullivan 

It’s all but impossible to talk about Beautiful without talking about Chicago’s Mueller family. Jessie Mueller originated the role of King in the musical bio, and went from regional standout at the likes of the Drury Lane and Marriott Lincolnshire theaters to Tony-winning Broadway star. She’s moved on from Beautiful, but in a marketing-friendly bit of casting, her sister Abby is playing King in the national tour running through the end of February at the Oriental Theatre.

Abby Mueller and Liam Tobin in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)Abby Mueller is terrific as the composer who turned into an icon with the 1971 album “Tapestry.” King sang her own songs on that seminal recording, and in the process, created an indelible bedrock of the era’s soundtrack. Numbers including “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “So Far Away” are sonic cultural touchstones.

While Mueller does a fine job embodying Carole King in Beautiful, the show itself is flawed. There’s little dramatic tension driving the Douglas McGrath’s book. The primary conflict lies with King’s philandering husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin). It’s not a terribly interesting conflict, especially in light of King’s accomplishments in the ruthlessly competitive, male-dominated music industry. Framing her story around her husband’s infidelity trivializes King’s journey. Instead of delving into creativity of this singular woman, we see that creativity primarily as a reaction to the man in her life.

Take, for example, King’s early career. At 16, she was already in college and from Bach to pops, a master of the keyboard. While most girls her age were laboring through high school, she was writing hit songs and brokering deals for herself with record labels. A teenager who successfully lands a gig writing songs for top pop stars? Now that’s an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary story. But “Beautiful” tells that part of King’s story with a matter-of-factness that’s so pedestrian, she might as well have been selling Girl Scout cookies. In Beautiful, the most important thing that occurs during King’s initial meeting with label execs isn’t the fact that they buy one of her songs. It’s that she meets her future husband.

Ben Fankhauser and Becky Gulsvig in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus) Britney Coleman, Sarah Bockel, Ashley Blanchet and Abby Mueller in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)Britney Coleman, Rebecca E. Covington, Ashley Blanchet and Salisha Thomas in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus) Abby Mueller as Carole King in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)Abby Mueller, Becky Gulsvig, Ben Fankhauser and Liam Tobin in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

That by-numbers plotting continues throughout the story of King’s long partnership with Goffin, the suave, dashing young man who became her husband as well as her creative partner. Before her breakthrough with “Tapestry,” she sang and wrote “Writer,” which flopped commercially. “Writer” doesn’t exist in McGrath’s story. Instead, King glides from composing songs for others to star front-woman with barely a hiccup.

McGrath’s book makes the supporting characters similarly perfunctory. Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig) is a perky, stylish paper doll. Her songwriting partner and lover Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) attempts to show how the times, they are a changin’ with “We Gotta Get Outta This Place”, but the song lacks context, and the character are flat.

Abby Mueller stars as Carole King in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)King, Weil, Mann and Goffin were at the heart of the music industry during an era of massive upheaval. The Civil Rights Movement was on fire. Youth culture – from the hippies to the beatniks to the protesters – was upending the entire social structure. From presidents to grunts on the ground, people were dying as they changes the world. New York City was an all-but unimaginably vibrant vortex of artistic protest and creation. All of that is invisible in Beautiful. The galvanic world that immersed King and her collaborators is reduced to a few generic references to changes in the music industry.

But the biggest frustration with Beautiful is in the scant attention it pays to “Tapestry.” The album is a masterpiece and a deeply personal reflection of its composer.. The show opens and closes with numbers from “Tapestry.” A few others are shoehorned around lesser songs that King wrote for other people. Not even Mueller, a performer who exudes warmth and has a soaring, emotive voice that fills the theater, can make up for that.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

Beautiful continues through February 21st at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, 24 W. Randolph (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays 2pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $37-$137, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayInChicago.com(Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Curt Bouril as Don Kirshner, Liam Tobin as Gerry Goffin, Abby Mueller as Carole King, Ben Fankhauser as Barry Mann, and Becky Gulsvig as Cynthia Weil in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Photos by Joan Marcus 


  

artists

cast

Abby Mueller (Carole King), Liam Tobin (Gerry Goffin), Becky Gulsvig (Cynthia Weil), Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann), Curt Bouril (Don Kirshner), Suzanne Grodner (Genie), Mark Banik, Ryan Farnsworth, Rosharra Francis, Jay McKenzie, Alaina Mills, Nasia Thomas (swing), Ashley Blanchet, Sarah Bockel, Andrew Brewer, Britney Coleman, Rebecca E. Covington, Josh A Dawson, John Michael Dias, Paris Nix, Noah J. Ricketts, Salisha Thomas, Delaney Westfall, Dashaun Young (ensemble),

orchestra

Susan Draus (conductor, keyboards), Nick Williams (asst. conductor, keyboards), Shannon Ford, Jim Widlowski (drums), Eric Stockton, Tom Logan (guitars), Tim Burke (trumpet), Andy Baker (trombone), Steve Leinheiser, Paul McGinley (reeds), Chris Sargent (keyboard), Tom Mendel (bass), Jeff Handley (percussion)

behind the scenes

Marc Bruni (director), Josh Prince (choreography), Jason Howland (musical supervision, music arrangements), Derek McLane (scenic design), Alejo Vietti (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Brian Ronan (sound design), Stephen Kopel (casting), Charles G. LaPointe (wig and hair design), Joe Dulude II (make-up design), Juniper Street Productions (production manager), Steve Sidwell (orchestrations, vocal/music arrangements), John Miller (music coordinator), Jennifer Coolbaugh (asst. music coordinator), Susan Draus (music director), Billy Jay Stein, Hiro Iida (electronic music design), Mark J. Schneider (associate director), Joyce Chittick (associate choreographer), Eric Sprosty (production stage manager), Nicole Olson (stage manager), Hannah Sullivan (asst. stage manager), Stephen Gabis (dialect coach), Charlotte Wilcox Company (general manager), Sherry Kondor, Christine Russell (executive producers), Paul Blake, Jeffrey A. Sine, Richard A Smith, Mike Bosner, Harriet N. Leve, Elain Krauss, Terry Schnuck, Orin Wolf, Patty Baker, Roger Faxon, Larry Magid, Kit Seidel, Lawrence S. Toppall, Mary Solomon, William Court Cohen, Matthew C. Blank, Tim Hogue, Joel Hyatt, Marianne Mills, Michael J. Moritz Jr., Jeremiah J. Harris (producers), Joan Marcus (photos)

 Dashaun Young, Paris Nix, Josh A. Dawson and Noah J. Ricketts as The Drifters in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)Abby Mueller as Carole King in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)Liam Tobin, Abby Mueller, Ben Fankhauser and Becky Gulsvig in Broadway in Chicago's "Beautiful" by Douglas McGrath and Carole King, directed by Marc Bruni. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

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Category: 2015 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Catey Sullivan, Ford Center for the Perfoming Arts, Musical, National Tours, Oriental Theatre (Ford), Video, YouTube, zReviewers (Not Current)

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