Beautiful’s National Tour is Absolutely Stunning!
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
“You know what’s so funny about life? Sometimes, it goes the way you want, and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes, when it doesn’t, you find something beautiful.” – Carole King, Beautiful: the Carole King Musical by Douglas McGrath
From April 9th to May 5th, the national tour of Beautiful: the Carole King Musical returned to Toronto, this time making its magic in the gorgeous Princess of Wales Theatre. The musical has a book by Douglas McGrath and tells the story of singer/songwriter Carole King; featuring the greatest hits of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, as well as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The incredible cast was directed by Marc Bruni, and lead by Chilina Kennedy, who returned to the touring cast for a limited run as Carole King straight from the Broadway production.
The story begins with Grammy Award Winner Carole King onstage at Carnegie Hall. This is the Carole King recognized by many - a curly mane and sitting at a grand piano. A flashback begins, and we meet fifteen year old Carole Klein from Brooklyn, preparing to sell her first song. The show tracks the beginning of her career, her personal and professional relationship with Gerry Goffin, and her transition to becoming the solo artist she is today.
Musical biographies are difficult to write yet Douglas McGrath captures the highlights of King’s life simply, creating an overview that maintains depth and heart. While pieces of dialogue can be cliche, the book remains realistic while discussing serious issues. The best thing about the book is how it demonstrates a Carole King beyond her music. Her songs are relatable, but this show presents a young girl with big dreams; and how she navigates a world where those dreams don’t always come true the way you expect them to.
Accompanying the book is “the soundtrack of a generation”, featuring many of Goffin and King’s greatest hits, alongside those written by their friends and competitors, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Powerful ballads and energetic dance numbers accompany the story, bringing to life what the spoken word cannot express. In the script, a young Carole tells her mother, “When I hear a good song, I feel like I’m not alone.” And that is the legacy of her music; songs that reach out and touch the souls of listeners everywhere.
The book and music of this musical weave Carole’s story together like a tapestry; intricate, entertaining, and genuinely beautiful.
Leading the touring cast as Carole King for the Toronto stop was Canada’s own Chilina Kennedy. There are very few words to describe Ms Kennedy’s performance as Carole King, but ‘tour de force’ seems to cover it all. Kennedy is honest and simple in her portrayal, bringing King to life in a relatable way. Her vocals are impeccable, but her greatest asset is her physicality. Though the sightlines are wonderful at The Princess of Wales, you never had to see Kennedy’s face to know exactly what King was experiencing in the moment. Her performance is inspirational, uplifting, and absolutely life-changing.
Alongside Kennedy is Dylan S. Wallach as Gerry Goffin, Carole’s first husband and writing partner. Wallach masterfully presents the many sides of Goffin with great versatility. There is a clear understanding of Goffin’s emotional journey, and he carves out a gradual build of highs and lows that arch towards his breaking point. Wallach plays wonderfully beside Kennedy, bringing the iconic duo to life with a genuine connection, making their reconciliation a believable and satisfying ending to the piece.
Providing a lighthearted balance to Goffin and King, Alison Whitehurst and Jacob Heimer give standout performances as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Mann and Weil are the genius behind the hits in the show that were not penned by Goffin and King. The two couples were friends and competitors, pushing each other to artistic greatness as they worked alongside each other.
Whitehurst and Kennedy share as beautiful a connection as King and Weil. These two women were trailblazers, and one of the best female friendships to be portrayed on the Broadway stage. The playful banter is balanced with support, and watching their friendship grow through the piece is something incredible all on its own.
The national tour of Beautiful has a strong ensemble which is filled to the brim with talent. The show itself requires a versatile ensemble as many of tracks include smaller roles within the show, some of which are well known music groups such as the Drifters and the Shirelles. The group of ensemble performers had a contagious energy through an endless variety of dance numbers that left audience members grinning. Synchronicity within a group is hard to master, but this cast seemed to share an internal rhythm that gave the tight knit numbers an extra wow factor. Two wonderful examples would be the performance of 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' and all numbers including the Drifters. The group of women portraying The Shirelles were flawless. In choreography, subtle and simple movements can be the hardest, as any mistake is more noticeable, however, these performers matched each other perfectly as they performed the iconic port des bras associated with this iconic girl group. The Drifters are another group who were well known by the way they moved, and the group portraying them worked like a well-oiled machine. These performers moved seamlessly through formation changes, choreography, and harmonies and were breathtaking to watch.
Overall, the entire company of this touring production shared high energy, strong sense of story and purpose, and were wonderfully in sync with each other. Theatre is a team sport, and the way this group worked together to present this show was incredible.
The set for the show is gorgeous; simple and effective. The initial shape is kept throughout with the same backdrop, as different sets move in and out. Transitions done on tracks are seamless and subtle as the story moves from one location to the next. The most effective set piece in the story is the piano in the Klein home. Carole King is often pictured as sitting behind a big, beautiful piano, as we see at the start and end of the show. However, throughout the play, she plays the wooden piano in her home, which doubles as the piano in the studio at 1650 Broadway where she works. Through the beginning of her career, as well as her tumultuous partnership with Gerry Goffin, she works at this instrument. When branching out as a solo artist, she is seen sitting at an electric keyboard, and finally, a grand piano. This is one example of the kind of detail within the design of this show; using a certain set piece to symbolize King's growth as a woman and as an artist. It is truly beautiful.
This musical is the kind of wonderful that I would love to see gracing our stages more often. I don't mean this in the sense of 'musical biography' or 'jukebox musicals', which are becoming increasingly popular. To me, we need more shows like Beautiful because it's a story about a young woman with a dream that goes beyond a love story. The biggest form of love in Beautiful goes beyond the romantic love associated with Broadway musicals, but to the kind of love only found within oneself, for oneself. A love that means overcoming personal demons and embracing everything you are. It's a show that makes you laugh, makes you cry, and carries classical Broadway magic while addressing contemporary issues. It is a show I would recommend to anyone, and one that always puts a smile on my face.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical closed this Sunday, May 5th as the national tour moved to it's next stop in Durham, North Carolina. For more tour stops and ticket information on this gorgeous production, head over to https://beautifulonbroadway.com/tour/.
If you missed seeing the musical, or enjoyed it and would like to learn more about this amazing woman, check out Carole King's memoir, A Natural Woman.