Chicago Theatre Review
Happy Days are Here Again
Beautiful—the Carol King Musical
Returning to Chicago for a second visit, this time for eight weeks of pure theatrical joy, this ebullient biopic musical draws audiences into its captivating music and plot and never lets go until the final bow. Telling the story of the early years and celebrating the brilliant career of singer/songwriting legend, Carole King, Douglas McGrath’s libretto traces the ups and downs experienced by this humble, gifted artist. From a precocious 16-year-old, who skipped two grades in high school to study music education at local Queens College, to her first published and recorded hit song (“It Might as Well Rain Until September”), we see a talented girl grow from a sharp kid into a wise young woman.
Through a whirlwind romance with her first love and longtime collaborator, lyricist Gerry Goffin, to their early marriage and the arrival of their first daughter, Carole develops her talent and learns the necessary tricks for surviving in the music business. She also eventually comes to realize that she’s been denying the obvious, all along. Gerry is soon revealed to be manic depressive and his violent, unexpected mood swings, along with a wandering eye for the ladies, lead to a rocky married life.
Along the way Carole dates Neil Sedaka, develops a close business relationship with rock music publisher Don Kirshner, becomes good friends with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and composes hit songs for the Shirelles, the Drifters, Janelle Woods, Little Eva and The Righteous Brothers, among many others. Although she works tirelessly to make her marriage work, Carole finally comes to realize that her tumultuous relationship with Gerry has turned toxic. In order to find her own voice, she finally leaves him and begins a new life with her two daughters in California. It’s there that Ms. King develops her own, true sound, while writing and recording the songs for her first album, Tapestry. The musical closes as it began, with Carole King, performing solo at the piano, joyfully playing and singing her own “Beautiful” music in concert, at Carnegie Hall.
This 2nd National Tour, starring Chicago/New York musical theatre actress, Sarah Bockel, is a polished, highly energetic, toe-tapping version of the popular, 2014 Broadway hit musical that earned three Tony Award and six Drama Desk nominations. It deservedly won both Tony and Drama Desk Awards for another Chicago actress, Jesse Mueller, as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. The show then went on to tour the country, and there’s rumors a film version is in the works.
Chocked full of hits from the 60’s and early 70’s, the score features such popular songs as “So Far Away,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “One Fine Day,” “Chains,” “On Broadway,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Uptown,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “(You Make Me Feel) A Natural Woman,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and many others. It’s no wonder the cast album won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album.
This production is every bit as beautifully acted, sung and danced as the original Broadway hit. Ms. Bockel, who was a featured ensemble member in the first National Tour, is terrific in the leading role, capturing Ms. King’s subtle nuances, both in her singing and her dialogue. Her scenes with charismatic, handsome actor/singer Andrew Brewer, as Gerry Goffin, are both romantic and dramatic. Sarah Goeke, whose voice is smooth and accomplished, makes a delightfully droll Cynthia Weil; and Jacob Heimer is very funny as hypochondriac composer, and Cynthia’s love interest, Barry Mann. James Clow is fatherly and caring as Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner, returning in the role, brings well-timed humor to Genie Klein, Carole’s meddling mother.
The entire ensemble sparkles and glitters vocally and dramatically, especially in Alejo Vietti’s magnificent costumes and Charles G. LaPointe’s stylish wigs and hair designs. Th gorgeously textured scenic design by Derek McLane offers a colorful all-purpose, ever-shifting background for this production. The show’s lit by Peter Kaczorowski, with pop concert pizzazz. Director Marc Bruni once again keeps the musical in motion, while taking those necessary moments for the audience to get to know and really understand these characters; and Josh Prince keeps everyone moving with his elaborate, 60’s style choreography.
This is one joyous and magical musical, from start to finish. No one will leave the theatre wishing for more because this talented company leaves it all there on the stage. Unlike some other plays, this production is truly “Broadway in Chicago,” featuring the very best actor/singer/dancers, gifting the audience with gorgeous, much-loved songs and creating a well-deserved tribute to one of America’s finest musical artists. This highly recommended musical will remind audiences that “Happy Days are Here Again!”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 5-January 28 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all BIC box offices, at all Ticketmaster retail locations, by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.