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Patrons got a friend in Lincolnshire this holiday season: ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ at Marriott Theatre

Marriott Theatre’s regional holiday production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the first of three stagings planned for Chicagoland over the next year, sets an incredibly high bar, superseding the first name of its title with whatever the superlative of “beautiful” might be.

Reprising her touring role as lead of this truly alluring biographical piece, Kaitlyn Davis is masterful, transubstantiating singing-songwriting legend Carole King in her early creative years. Bookwriter Douglas McGrath deserves strong plaudits for delightful storytelling through a bevy of musical hits from the late 1950s through the mid-1970s.

This title is truly sublime to Chicagoland theatrical audiences who cheer on their hometown talents.  Jessie Mueller won the 2014 Tony Award for her Broadway performance as King; her sister Abby played King in the first national tour and ultimately settled into a Broadway run of her own before going on to star in SIX. And both Eliza Palasz and Sarah Bockel, each with her own Chicagoland ties, portrayed King across the country. At Marriott, the Mueller / Beautiful connection grows, with brother Andrew Mueller perfecting embodying King’s songwriting partner and first husband, the emotionally complex Gerry Goffin.  

The enticing story of Beautiful is an affective coming-of-age tale—gritty New Yorker Carole Klein fights her way into the record business as a teenager and, by the time she reaches her 20s, has the husband of her dreams and a burgeoning career writing hits for the biggest rock ‘n’ roll stars. But her marital struggles, divorce and move to Los Angeles are what allow her to find her true voice.

This is no fluff 60s and 70s jukebox musical. It’s a tender woven tapestry of vignettes downloading some historical treasures. Among them are King and Goffin’s relationship with fellow songwriters and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann and this quartet’s contributions to popular music icons: The Drifters, Little Eva, The Righteous Brothers, Janelle Woods, The Monkees, The Shirelles, and others.

Marriott director Jessica Fisch casts an exquisite ensemble promising to enchant audiences through the holidays. In addition to Davis and Mueller, Chicagoland’s next Broadway star, Erica Stephan, slays the part of the droll Weil, perfectly juxtaposed by hypochondriac Mann, neurotically portrayed by Justin Albinder. Lawrence Grimm is terrific as Don Kirschner, as is Janet Ulrich Brooks as King's mother, Genie Klein. The leads are surrounded and uplifted by an ensemble of high octane, young triple threats who sing and dance to Christopher Windom’s powerful choreography as the Drifters, the Shirelles, the Righteous Brothers and more. Take note of their names.

Together, this luminous cast takes their audience through the best possible playlist of 60s music. "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Who Put the Bomp," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Up on the Roof", "On Broadway", "The Locomotion", "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin’", "One Fine Day", "Walking in the Rain", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" are examples of some of the songs written by this prolific songwriting quartet. All are exquisite here. They’re completed with fast-paced changes of extraordinary costumes by Sully Ratke complementing the manificently mod turntable set designed by Andrew Boyce. It’s the best possible use of Marriott’s in-the-round setting. Ryan T. Nelson’s orchestrations are flawlessly executed by Marriott’s nine-piece orchestra.

So call it what you will…perhaps one of the words italicized above, or if preferred…dazzling, divine, enticing, excellent, gorgeous, lovely, marvelous, pulchritudinous, radiant, resplendent or superb? Choose the one that rings most superlative. Because this Beautiful is some kind of wonderful.