Review: 'Beautiful: The Carole King Story' - Canadian Tour

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  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

I am so glad that I got up that morning because the beautiful Chilina Kennedy as Carole King and an extraordinary company put a smile on my face at the terrific opening night of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’.  I’m still grinning as ‘Beautiful’ is that feel good show we all need right now.

Even after personal reflection about the entire production the next day, I am still amazed at the complete joy of song and performance emanating from the entire company that was transferred to the faces of many of the audience members around me. I’ve seen some recent tours of major sit-down productions several years ago that have become tired.  When I heard ‘Beautiful’ was returning with Ms. Kennedy, my first thought was hoping it wouldn’t have fallen into that trap.  I have not seen the original New York company so I have no comparison to make.

Rest assured this touring company is worth the price of admission.

‘Beautiful’ focuses on the early life and career of Carole King using songs that she wrote with her then husband Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach) and songwriters Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer) and Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst). There is a reference to Phil Spector in the show but we never get to meet him.  Douglas McGrath’s book may seem simplistic but that’s fine with me as it is the performances which make this musical fly. There is a line from the top of the show that resonated so much with me that I wrote it down in my notebook, “When life doesn’t go the way you want, you find something beautiful.”

This current touring company found its way to something beautiful.

The production opens with a piano centre stage. When Ms. Kennedy enters at the top of the show to sing ‘So Far Away’, it is revealed this is Ms. King’s concert at Carnegie Hall. We are then transported to the magical 50s and 60s to see the rise of Ms. King’s talent. A fluid pacing of sets and props that glide, slide and fly in and out keeps the momentum going. Alejo Vietti’s costumes from this time period are realistic recreations. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design is breathtaking as we are transported from concerts to offices to various residences. I’m always continually listening to see if I can hear the lyrics in the songs and acoustically it is solid.

Ms. Kennedy sparkles as Carole King. As the young Carole Klein, Ms. Kennedy shows a performance of youthful exuberance and determination all combined with that New York boldness and grit. As the elder Carole who makes her way in the music industry, Ms. Kennedy continues to reveal a solid firmness and determination that she will move past many of the trials and hardships she has had to endure as a result of her early marriage in her teenage years to the handsome but unstable Gerry Goffin (superb performance by Dylan. S. Wallach)

Many of these songs stem from my childhood and young adult years so it was fascinating to watch how their genesis in the music industry. I recall seeing the names Don Kirshner, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil on my 45s and 33 LP vinyl records and had no idea this trio knew Ms. King. James Clow is a tough as nails Kirshner who firmly believed in Ms. King’s abilities. Jacob Heimer and Alison Whitehurst as the hypochondriac Mann and sassy Weil are so much fun to watch. They are naturally believable in their portrayal of the oddest paired couple in the music business.

It is the music which makes this production a fine evening of entertainment.  There is an advisory outside asking audience members not to hum along and disturb the listening enjoyment of the other patrons. Has it really come to this that notices have to be given not to sing along?  Anyway, the musical numbers are simply spectacular.  At the beginning of the second act, I made the decision to close my notebook, put my pen away, and just enjoy what was presented in front of me.

And I most certainly did.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ continues to May 5 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets call 1-416-872-1212 or visit www.mirvish.com.

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission

Photo of Chilina Kennedy taken by Joan Marcus.

The Cast: Chilina Kennedy, Dylan S. Wallach, Alison Whitehurst, Jacob Heimer, James Clow, Suzanne Grodner, Ben Biggers, Darius Delk, John Michael Dias, Leandra Ellis-Gaston, Kaylee Harwood, Willie Hill, Alia Hodge, James Michael Lambert, Harper Miles, Dimitri Joseph Moise, Aashley Morgan, Deon Releford-Lee, Paul Scanlan, Avery Smith, DeAnne Stewart, Danielle J. Simmons, Alexis Tidwell, Elise Vannerson

Directed by Marc Bruni; Choreographed by Josh Prince; Music Director: Susan Draus; Make Up Design: Joe Dulude II; Scenic Design: Derek McLlane; Sound Design: Brian Ronan; Wig and Hair Design: Charles G. LaPointe.