ReviewStage

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”: Breaking the Jukebox Musical Stigma

Nora Dominick ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Jessie Mueller in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.
Jessie Mueller in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.

Jukebox musicals have a strong stigma on Broadway. People think these musicals are taking the easy way out and boxing out new musicals. The music is already written it just needs a Broadway feel and a new book. A lot of people felt this way for a while until; they sit in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre for 2-hours and watched Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Carole King’s music has transcended generations. She is most notable for her debut album Tapestry, which earned her 1972 Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Her lyrics are legendary and her voice is iconic.

However, what few people know is that prior to topping the charts, King was a simple song writer who is responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 1960s like “Locomotion” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Some Kind of Wonderful”. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical takes King’s exemplary music and tells audiences the story about the woman before Tapestry.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical tells the story of Carole Klein/King (Jessie Mueller), a Brooklyn girl with a passion for songwriting. She fights her way into the record business as a teenager and by the time she reaches her twenties she has the husband of her dreams, Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein), two life-long friends, Cynthia Weil (Anika Larson) and Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector), and a flourishing career writing for some of the biggest acts in rock ‘n’ roll. When her personal life begins to crack under the pressure, she manages to find her true voice and write the soundtrack for a generation.

Jessie Mueller and Jake Epstein in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.
Jessie Mueller and Jake Epstein in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.

King’s remarkable rise to stardom flourishes on stage in this new musical. With a book by Douglas McGrath and music and lyrics by Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Beautiful is the hit of the 2014 Broadway season.

With a musical based on someone’s life, finding the right cast is everything. The portrayal of these people has to be done with grace and excellence. Beautiful casted this musical exceptionally.

Heading up this talented cast is the incomparable Jessie Mueller. She flourishes on stage night after night as she brings Carole King’s story to life.

This isn’t Mueller’s first time on Broadway. She made her Broadway debut in 2011 after a prosperous career in the Chicago theatre scene. Her debut in the 2011 revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever as Melinda Wells earned her a 2012 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Since then, Mueller has starred in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2012 revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood as Helena Landless/ Miss Janet Conover, which earned her a Drama Desk Nomination and critical acclaim. She also took over the role of Billie Bendix from Kelli O’Hara in Nice Work If You Can Get It starring Matthew Broderick in 2013.

Jeb Brown, Jake Epstein, Jessie Mueller, Jarrod Spector and Anika Larsen in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.
Jeb Brown, Jake Epstein, Jessie Mueller, Jarrod Spector and Anika Larsen in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.

Now, she has taken on the role of her lifetime. Mueller effortless transforms into King and shows her strength and vulnerability during her songwriting and eventual singing career. As you sit in the audience, you truly believe Mueller is Ms. King. Mueller’s voice perfectly fits the 1960s song genre and her harmonies with Jake Epstein make you swoon. One element of her performance that leaves audiences breathless is her remarkable piano playing. Mueller takes over the keys and you can’t help but be in awe.

Mueller recently took home the 2014 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, one of the closest competitions this season. This was a well deserved win for the young actress. Mueller is making her mark on Broadway and this is hopefully the start to a long and prosperous career.

Although Mueller commands the ship, the entire ensemble is stunning. Anika Larson and Jarrod Spector command the audience in moments of humor and vulnerability. Their respective performances earned both of them 2014 Tony Award nomination and Larson the 2014 Drama Desk Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Night after night this company transports the audience into the grueling world of songwriting in the 1960s. And they do it with ease. I walked away being amazed at the company but also wanting to know more about the real people who are portrayed.

Jessie Mueller and cast in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.
Jessie Mueller and cast in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com.

The scenic and lighting design of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is astounding. The large scaffolding sets used to portray New York City, the recording studio and various other locations are marvelous. The blues, purples and yellows used in the lighting bring life to the intricate sets.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a standout on Broadway right now. Jessie Mueller’s performance as Carole King is one for the ages. The company backs her up with ease and they effortless portray the happiness, heartache, and vulnerability in King’s life. This musical is stunning and elevates the jukebox musical to new heights. The stigma is shattered with this incredible piece of theatre, which will hopefully be around for years to come.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is currently playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in NYC. Tickets are going fast so make sure to reserve your seat to the hottest musical on Broadway.

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