BEAUTIFUL THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL, one of the most well-constructed and delightful jukebox musicals I’ve ever seen, has arrived back in Chicago just in time for the holiday season. This empowering musical about singer-songwriter Carole King has enough emotional impact to make your heart burst. This is my third time seeing BEAUTIFUL, and I remain struck by the emotional depth behind this show. In BEAUTIFUL, we see the title character not only learn to find her voice as an artist in a male-dominated industry but also as an independent young woman who breaks free of a toxic relationship with her former husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. And though that storyline hardly sounds light and airy, BEAUTIFUL is also an unabashedly joyous celebration of King’s music and that of other 1960s artists who worked alongside her—perhaps most significantly her friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.
Sarah Bockel, who previously appeared in the ensemble of both the Broadway and touring productions, fully plumbs the emotional depths of the title role. Bockel is nothing short of magnificent here, and she sells the part with a vulnerability and freshness that makes this BEAUTIFUL work so well. She also has a sound all her own, quite different from the more polished and traditionally Broadway vocals of original star Jessie Mueller. Bockel’s voice has some fittingly jagged edges, and she sounds uncannily like Carole King. This jaggedness only adds to the immense emotionality of the central role, and Bockel particularly shines on the classics “Natural Woman” and in the title song. If you have not yet seen BEAUTIFUL—or even if you have—Bockel’s take on the role is a mighty compelling reason to see it now.
She’s also in fine company. The ensemble is consistently strong here, strutting their stuff in Alejo Vietti’s vibrant costumes. Derek McLane’s glossy, elaborate Broadway set is also fully opulent here. As KIng’s close friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jacob Heimer and Sarah Goecke are a splendid pair. The two actors have lovely onstage chemistry but also sing like a dream. Andrew Brewer is sufficiently slick and captivating as Goffin, and he too sings well.
If you want to celebrate the holiday season but forego the stereotypical holiday shows, BEAUTIFUL is the right fit. This show has many of Carole King’s famously recognizable tunes like “The Locomotion” and “I Feel The Earth Move” without the holiday schmaltz. BEAUTIFUL feels ebullient but also has a real beating heart—particularly with Bockel in the leading role.
BEAUTIFUL THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL plays Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre through January 28. Tickets are $30-$115. BroadwayInChicago.com
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Read the original review on BroadwayWorld.com.