Chicago Theatre Review
Some Kind of Wonderful
Beautiful—the Carol King Musical – Broadway in Chicago
Joy, pure joy! That, in a nutshell, is the audience’s response to this wonderful biopic musical. 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 at local Queens College, to her first published and recorded hit song (“It Might as Well Rain Until September”), we see a teenage 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 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 Kirsher, 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 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 true sound, while writing and recording the songs for her first album, Tapestry. The musical closes as it opened, with Carole King, solo at the piano, joyfully playing and singing her own “Beautiful” music in concert, at Carnegie Hall.
This National Tour, starring Evanston native and Chicago/New York musical theatre actress, Abby Mueller, 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 Abby’s younger sister, Jesse Mueller, as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. The show then went on to play around the country and there’s rumored to be a film version of the musical 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,” 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. Mueller is terrific in the leading role, capturing all of Ms. King’s subtle nuances, both in her singing and her dialogue. Her scenes with handsome, excellent actor/singer Liam Tobin are both romantic and dramatic. Becky Gulsvig, whose voice is riveting, makes a delightfully droll Cynthia Weil; and Ben Fankhauser is very funny as hypochondriac composer, and Cynthia’s love interest, Barry Mann. Curt Bouril is fatherly and caring as Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner brings humor to her role as Genie Klein, Carol’s ever-controlling mother. The entire ensemble vocally sparkles and glitters, especially in Alejo Vietti’s magnificent costumes, played against Derek McLane’s stylistic, all-purpose scenic design and lit by Peter Kaczorowski, with pop concert pizzazz. Director Marc Bruni keeps the musical in motion, while taking those necessary moments for the audience to really understand and get to know these characters; and Josh Prince keeps everyone moving with his 60’s style moves and choreography.
This is one joyous, magical musical, from start to finish. No one will leave the theatre wishing for more because it’s all there on the stage. Unlike some other plays, this is a production that can truly boast the name, Broadway in Chicago, starring the very best actor/singer/dancers, featuring gorgeous, beloved songs from the past and creating a deserved tribute to one of America’s finest musical artists. This highly recommended musical is quite simply, “Some Kind of Wonderful!”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 1-February 21 by Broadway in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at all Ticketmaster locations, at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, by calling the 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 by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.