Carole King or Carole Queen? “Beautiful: A Carole King Musical” tours in Minneapolis

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Broadway musical "Beautiful" revolves around the life story and music pf iconic singer-songwriter Carole King.

Currently running at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical has an intangible authenticity to it that takes the work and life story of one of the most influential female songwriters of all time and creates an emotional masterpiece. The musical is far more than a medley of King’s greatest hits, but an inspiring story of overcoming the odds, a message that transcends generations.

The libretto for Beautiful is a mixture of Carole King’s earliest songs written for other artists as well as some of her hits off of her record-breaking album “Tapestry.” However, it did not slip my notice that Beautiful fails to include what I think of as King’s main legacy, her most sentimental and impactful musical contribution to date: the theme song to early 2000’s TV show Gilmore Girls. While many of my superiors may find songs like “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “It’s Too Late” more anthemic, as a die-hard fan of my Gilmore homegirls, I feel like the musical really missed an opportunity.

Looking past the lack of Gilmore Girls, Beautiful is thoroughly enjoyable. The musical begins with a single spotlight on King (Abby Mueller) playing at a piano—a powerful image that recurs throughout the play. The first act essentially introduces King and takes the audience through the trials and tribulations of songwriting and young love.

As the show goes on, it’s powerhouse singer after powerhouse singer as each character takes their turn in the spotlight; some vocal standouts include King’s husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), King’s songwriting competition Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig), and the many characters played by Ashley Blanchet. However, none of them quite overshadow what every middle-aged couple came to experience: an actress delivering raw performances with powerful vocals reminiscent of a young Carole King.

As the show goes on, it’s powerhouse singer after powerhouse singer as each character takes their turn in the spotlight”

— Leo Driessen

The featured singers throughout the first act coupled with King’s life story help keep the production from becoming “Beautful: The Carole King Concert.” King’s character could easily overshadow the other actors, but each and every character holds their own as characters as well as vocally. The musical’s comedic highlights were witty and mainly accomplished by King’s mother (Suzanne Grodner) along with Cynthia Well and her songwriting partner Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser).

Once the musical began the second act, the pace of the musical slowed down significantly. Nevertheless, the pace sped right back up and the energy in the room surged when King started singing some of her later hits, and it was evident that those performances were the reason many audience members came.

The simple set that was the backdrop to all of these performances was composed of neutral tones, patterns, and browns was dressed up and stripped down with lighting and set pieces depending on the spectacle being conveyed. The smooth transitions of major and minor set pieces and quick changes 0f costume help the story move along. At one point, King’s babysitter spins around and changes into a new dress astonishingly.

The production values are beautiful, but what’s even more beautiful are the genuine, talent-filled performances that feature Carole King’s songwriting and Abby Mueller’s voice. Beautiful has a simplistic beauty and a transcendent message meaningful for all ages.