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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent reviews of Bear Grease and The Moneylender's Daughter

Shinah Hey, Monet Sabel, Michael Gruber,
and Alan Bach

Photo by Dan Norman
The song "Beautiful," which lends its name to Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, begins, "You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face, and show the world all the love in your heart." Those lyrics aptly describe Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' production of the show, which projects an inordinate amount of love for its subject and for its audience. The show, like the song, is upbeat, even when it depicts the darker moments of its subject's life. Chanhassen's staging of Beautiful, doesn't miss a beat as it credibly conveys the emotional heart of her story, with its highs and lows, while treating us to a cornucopia of hits from her extensive songbook, supplemented by other memorable hits of the era.

To be precise, that era begins in 1958–when King, having changed her name from Carol Klein, was sixteen years old and already an aspiring songwriter–through 1971, with the event that solidified her status as one of the great singer-songwriters of her generation, her concert at Carnegie Hall. Most of the show in between pivots between her partnership with Gerry Goffin–incredibly fruitful as a lyricist-composer team though far less successful as husband and wife–and the issuance of hit song after hit song. Douglas McGrath's insightful book uses those songs, as much as possible, as ways of underscoring the emotional tenor of King's life at that time, which means in some cases an introspective delivery and in other cases a rousing full-out production.

Father and daughter co-directors Michael and Cat Brindisi have seamlessly staged the transition between the quiet moments and the electrically charged ones, and even within scenes, using a wizard's hat full of devices to delight audiences, such as having Neil Sedaka appear out of thin air to sing "Oh, Carol," his hit song that he, the story has it, wrote in his disappointment to her break-up with him when they briefly dated in high school, or Gerry and Carole, unable to think of a recording artist suited to sing their new dance song, urging their babysitter Eva to think of someone and she, like magic, transforms into Little Eva, the pop star, surrounded by a mass of backup singers and dancers as she warbles her first big hit, Goffin and King's "Locomotion."

King's story allows us to see her first trip, against her opinionated mother's wishes, to the nexus of music publishers and producers centered around the Brill Building in New York's Times Square. There she meets Don Kirschner, who nurtures her career with Goffin, as well as their best friends and arch rivals, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, whose songs "On Broadway," "Walking in the Rain," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," also are part of Beautiful. Finally, we see Carole King emerge from the background to sing her own songs that describe her life journey and view of the world, with the massive success of her Grammy-winning album Tapestry and that trip to Carnegie Hall.

Monet Sabel is a wonderful choice to play Carole King. At the start, she is hard to believe as a 16-year-old city girl, but her convincing New York accent, her acting chops, and especially her strong delivery of the songs many of us have cherished for decades put her over the top–way over! When she sings "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," as she reads for the first time Goffin's lyrics set to a tune she had already written, we see her light up with the understanding of the depth of his feelings, along with his insecurities, and at the same time the thrill of knowing that they finally have their break-through hit. When she follows Janelle Wood's upbeat delivery of the latest Goffin and King hit, "One Fine Day," with her own interpretation, bringing anger and heartache to those very same lyrics, we know we are in the most capable of hands.

Sabel is well-matched by Shad Hanley as Gerry Goffin, Hanley's third bulls-eye performance in a row at Chanhassen, following the meaty roles of Trent Oliver in The Prom and Nick Massi in Jersey Boys. Hanley's voice blends smoothly with Sabel's on the radiant "Some Kind of Wonderful" and a frothy "Take Good Care of My Baby," and expresses the inner turmoil that make Goffin a soulful lyricist and unreliable partner when he goes solo on "Up on the Roof." Shinah Hey captures Cynthia Weil's stylish sophistication and drive to be independent, while Alan Bach earns many laughs for his portrayal of Barry Mann as a blend of nerdy hypochondriac and horn-dog.

Michael Gruber, a mainstay at Chanhassen, makes Don Kirschner an endearing character. Kirschner was only eight years older than King but was already established when she showed up at his door as a teenager grasping for success. As depicted in Beautiful, Kirschner becomes not only a publisher but a father figure, and Gruber puts heart into both aspects of the role. Kim Kivens has the small but choice role of Genie Klein, Carol's caustic mother. She earns laughs for the zingers she delivers, while she conveys a practicality common to those who grew up in the Great Depression, and with it a loving wish for her daughter's life to be less fraught.

The large ensemble includes a number of performers who step out to recreate the singers who had big hits with Goffin and King songs, Weil and Mann songs, and others during a time between Elvis taking of for the army and the arrival of a different army, the British Invasion led by the Beatles. Daysha Ramsey, as Janelle Woods belts out a powerful "One Fine Day;" Sam Stoll is just right as Neal Sedaka, complete with vocal hiccups on "Oh, Carol;" John Jamison II is superb as lead singer for the Drifters, joined by Mitchell Douglas, Reginald D. Haney and Matthew Hall on a silky smooth "Up on the Roof;" Quinn Lorez, Rue Norman, Daysha Ramsey and Anya Naylor as the Shirelles make it easy to believe they scored a hit with "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" and Katemarie Andrews, as Little Eva, build up the steam to get the train rolling in "Locomotion." Especially impressive are Adam Moen and Tony Vierling as the Righteous Brothers, belting out "You've Lost that Loving Feeling." All of the above, and other ensemble members do swivel-hipped justice to Tamara Kangas Erickson's buoyant choreography.

The songs all sound terrific as played by the ten-piece orchestra perched above the stage, led by music director Andy Kust. The scenic concept is fairly simple, as it was for the touring production of Beautiful that made a stop in Minneapolis in 2015, but sufficient to clearly delineate the various locations, including three distinct office settings: Kirschner's, Goffin and King's, and Weil and Mann's, and the suburban home to which Carole and Gerry move in an effort to stabilize the turmoil that, along with success, has taken hold of them. Furnishings are spare, but in every case reflecting changing tastes as the fifties roll into the early sixties, and then the late sixties, with flower power blossoming.

What is true of the sets is even more so for Barbara Portinga's costumes, which straddle the transition from the button-downed fifties to the swinging sixties and on to the beginnings of the laid-back seventies, with a flower-print gown that King wears for her Carnegie Hall concert conveying the "earth mother" image that was then associated with her. Lex Patton and Tracy Swenson have done similarly strong work on hair and makeup design, reflecting the radically changing hair styles gracing America's heads over that span of time.

Beautiful opens with Carole King waiting to go on stage before the 1971 Carnegie Hall concert, fighting off nerves while also recognizing a sense of accomplishment for making it through the challenges in her life to reach this point. She begins by singing "So Far Away," a beautiful but melancholy song that decries the distance we put between ourselves and those we love. At Chanhassen, however, Beautiful does not feel so far away. In spite of the large, 500 capacity theater, the theater's design and staging allow for an immediacy and intimacy that bring us closely into the life of this phenomenal artist. As the scene transitions back to show King's journey in flashback, we are drawn on that journey with her.

At an apropos point in the show, King sings one of the best-known song from her Tapestry album, "It's Too Late." Beautiful has settled into a long run, but don't delay until it is too late. Beautiful - The Carole King Musical is another must see production from Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical runs through September 28, 2024, at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, 501 West 78th Street, Chanhassen MN. Tickets for dinner/lunch and show: $75 - $105. Show-only tickets, if available, at the box office ten days before performance date: $55 - $85. Check the website for senior (age 55+) and student (ages 5–17) discounts. For tickets and information, please call 952-934-1525 or 1-800-362-3515, or visit

Book: Douglas McGrath; Words and Music: Gerry Goffin and Carole King & Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Co-Directors: Michael Brindisi and Cat Brandisi; Choreographer: Tamara Kangas Erickson; Music Director: Andy Kust; Set Design: Nayna Ramey; Costume Design: Barbara Portinga; Lighting Design: Sue Ellen Berger; Sound Design: Russ Haynes; Hair and Makeup Design: Lex Patton and Tray Swenson; Properties Director: Laura Wilhelm; Intimacy Director: Elizabeth DeSotelle; Technical Director: Logan Jambik; Production Stage Manager: Chloe Volna-Rich; Assistant Stage Manager: Jack Speltz.

Cast: Katemarie Andrews (Little Eva/ensemble), Alan Bach (Barry Mann), Tommy Benson (ensemble), Serena Brook (ensemble), Cody C. Carlson (ensemble), Mitchell Douglas (Drifters/Nick/ ensemble), Michael Gruber (Don Kirschner), Matthew Hall (Drifters/ensemble), Reginald D. Haney (Drifters/ensemble), Shad Hanley (Gerry Goffin), Shinah Hey (Cynthia Weil), John Jamison II (Drifters/ensemble) Mark King (Lou Adler/ensemble), Kim Kivens (Genie Klein), Jorie Ann Kosel (Marilyn Wald/ensemble), Quinn Lorez (Shirelles/ensemble), Tommy McCarthy (ensemble), Andrea Mislan (Lucille/ensemble), Adam Moen (Righteous Brother/ensemble), Anya Naylor (Shirelles/ensemble), Rue Norman (Shirelles/ensemble), Daysha Ramsey (Shirelles/Janelle Woods/ensemble), Eric Romero (ensemble), Laura Rudolph (ensemble), Dylan Rugh (Bobby Vee/ensemble), Monet Sabel (Carole King), Maureen Sherman-Mendez (Betty/ensemble), Sam Stoll (Neil Sedaka/ensemble), Tony Vierling (Righteous Brother/ensemble).