Friday, November 20, 2015

A Breathless Beautiful

Carole King finally gets the full spotlight

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Beautiful follows the rich career of Carole King, a sort of pop music savant who started in the business at age 16 and continues to work today. King wrote hits for a huge number of stars, including the Drifters, the Shirelles, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Vee, and dozens more. She started out as a songwriting team and wife with Gerry Goffin, but after the dissolution of her first marriage (which comprises the bulk of the show's plot), branched out on her own, moved to California and produced a stunningly successful solo album.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
I knew a lot of Carole's music but was unfamiliar with her story, and it makes for a great show. This is not least becuase it is highly accessible; King came from an extremely ordinary background and made her career special by making it her own. She was strong and vulnerable; talented yet doubtful; winsome and fierce; and her ability to stay in touch with the world around her made her a lasting talent.

King is played expertly by Abby Mueller. Mueller has a deceptively awesome voice and displays King with a wide emotional range. Mueller especially shines in her solo pieces near the end of the show, especially on a gorgeous rendition of "Natural Woman."
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The whole cast is vocally talented. The rest of the core group of King's circle, Liam Tobin (a  moody Gerry Goffin), Becky Gulsvig (always optimistic and forward-thinking Cynthia Weil) and Ben Fankhauser (hypochondriac Barry Mann), provide a sound emotional base for the show's drama and many of its better harmonic moments.

The "celebrity cameos," in which actors impersonate famous performers of different eras, are also fantastic. There are really too many good ones to name, but trust me, they'll have you grooving in your seat. In particular "That Loving Feeling" and "On The Boardwalk" are standouts. I also want to give Beautiful props for featuring a pretty diverse cast; it IS possible to create a historically accurate portrayal that also includes a range of appearances! What a thought.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The set is low-key but effective, as are costumes and makeup. It's enjoyable to see the decades pass with clear distinction and a highly efficient track floor. King's character is a fascinating mix of Peggy Olsen (from Mad Men) meets Janice Joplin, while Gulsvig could be Betty Draper with an attitude.

If you love shows that can double as sing-alongs or are a fan of music created sometime between the 1950s and 1980s, you will love Beautiful. Carole King has been active much longer than that, of course, but her greatest hits occurred in that time frame, and I'm willing to bet that almost every person would recognize at least one song in the show. Beautiful runs through November 29; make sure you get your tickets by clicking on this link.