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You’ve Got a Friend

Highly Recommended

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

In the first of three Chicagoland productions this season, the Marriott Theatre’s ebullient biopic musical, which is pure theatrical joy, draws the audience into its catchy music and captivating story. The production grabs you and never lets go until after the final bows. Relating the artist’s formative years, “Beautiful” celebrates the brilliant career of singer/songwriting legend, Carole King. Douglas McGrath’s libretto depicts the many ups and downs experienced by this modest, 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 watch a talented young lady grow from a sharp kid into a wise and gifted woman.

Through her whirlwind romance with first love and longtime collaborator, lyricist Gerry Goffin, to their early marriage and the arrival of their two daughters, Carole King develops her talent and learns all the tricks of the trade for surviving in the music business. She also eventually comes to realize that she’s been denying the obvious, all along. Gerry is revealed to be manic depressive and his violent, unexpected mood swings, along with a wandering eye for the ladies, leads to a rocky married life.

Along the way Carole dates pop singer Neil Sedaka, develops a close business relationship with 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 become toxic. In order to find her own voice, she finally leaves him and begins a new life with her two daughters in Los Angeles. 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 began, with Carole King, performing solo at the baby grand, joyfully playing and singing her own “Beautiful” music at Carnegie Hall.

Under the sharp and skillful direction of Jessica Fisch, whose adept work has been enjoyed at theaters like Drury Lane, Northlight and Writers, Marriott’s in-the-round production is a polished, highly energetic, toe-tapping version of the popular, 2014 Broadway hit. The musical earned three Tony Awards and six Drama Desk nominations. It deservedly won both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Chicago phenom, Jesse Mueller, as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Two National Tours of the musical have already visited Chicago, and now our excellent regional theatres are presenting their own versions.

Chocked full of songs from the 60’s and early 70’s, the score features such pop hits 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,” “It’s Too Late,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and many others. It’s no wonder the cast recording 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. Talented guest star Kaitlyn Davis makes her auspicious debut at the Marriott Theatre in a role she was born to play. This young actress is simply stunning. Her National Tour credits include Christine Daae’ in “Phantom of the Opera,” and she was featured in the National Tour of “Beautiful.” Ms. Davis is terrific in this leading role, capturing Ms. King’s subtle nuances, both in her singing, dialogue and mastery of the piano. Her scenes with handsome and charismatic actor/singer Andrew Mueller (the brother of Tony winner Jesse Mueller), as Gerry Goffin, are both romantic and dramatic. Erica Stephan, whose voice is so smooth and powerful, makes a delightfully droll Cynthia Weil; and Justin Albinder is very funny as hypochondriac composer, and Cynthia’s love interest, Barry Mann. Lawrence Grimm is fatherly and caring as Don Kirshner and Janet Ulrich Brooks brings feisty, well-timed humor to Carole’s meddling mother, Genie Klein.

The gifted ensemble of the Marriott production sparkles and glitters, both vocally and dramatically, especially in Sully Ratke’s magnificent costumes and Ray Sanchez’s stylish wigs and hair designs. Andrew Boyce’s sparse, but stylish scenic design includes a revolving stage, appropriately designed to look like an LP record. Two similar stationary side stages provide additional acting areas. Suspended above the arena stage are white piano keys, and behind the audience are free form LED screens upon which various New York locales are projected. The various models of piano used in the production, plus various home and office furnishings, arrive and leave the stage with ease. The show is lit with pop pizzazz by Jesse Klug. Guest choreographer Christopher Windom keeps the musical in motion with his elaborate, 60’s style dance moves.

This is a joyous and magical musical, from start to finish. No one will leave the theatre wishing for more because this talented company leaves it all on the stage. This first homegrown Chicago production of “Beautiful” features the very best actor/singer/dancers. Jessica Fisch’s expert direction, as well as Ryan T. Nelson’s brilliant musical direction, gifts the audience with an array of gorgeous, much-loved pop and rock songs, that are a loving blast from the past. The company creates an exciting, well-deserved tribute to Carole King. This production is a testament that, through America’s talented musical artists and their great music, “You’ve Got a Friend.”