Review: Carole King's Life Story Blossoms in BEAUTIFUL at La Mirada

An endearing, witty, and beguiling class act of a musical, this superb new La Mirada production exemplifies a biographical jukebox musical done right.

By: Nov. 20, 2023
Review: Carole King's Life Story Blossoms in BEAUTIFUL at La Mirada

In the grand tradition of taking a beloved artist's popular discography and fashioning a jukebox musical around that catalog, BEAUTIFUL - THE Carole King MUSICAL is a… well, beautiful example of a really good one—a genuinely enjoyable rarity for sure in a theatrical world of pedestrian, assembly-line-produced jukebox musicals that merely fulfill a nostalgic desire.

An endearing, witty, and beguilingly inspirational class act of a musical, BEAUTIFUL—a 2014 Tony Award nominee for Best Musical—manages to be a continuously fascinating behind-the-scenes show, revealing the real-life story of prolific Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Carole King—from her humble beginnings as an ambitious teenage aspiring songwriter in Brooklyn 1958 all the way to her triumphant post-Grammy Carnegie Hall debut concert in 1971 to support her first hit solo album Tapestry.

In between these significant career highlights, the audience witnesses a lovely personal metamorphosis of a talented yet somewhat timid unseen artist who gets rewarded then burned by love, but then slowly becomes a self-assured, out-in-front star that finally finds her true voice, despite a confidence-crushing setback of a sinking marriage she desperately tried to keep afloat.

From start to finish, BEAUTIFUL authentically keeps you engaged in Carole's journey, despite the musical having only (relatively) minor high-stakes drama involved—though, perhaps, not so much for the actual people who lived through these dramatized scenes in real life. But as audiences experience this amiable, heartwarming show (knowing full well that Carole successfully comes out victorious on the other side) you'll instantly feel joyful—and, perhaps, even a little relieved—that the show has been purposely designed to elicit these pleasantly tame emotional responses. In this case, the show's relative "squareness" is actually its most appealing, calming quality.

Upholding the laudable aspects of the show's delightful Broadway national tour production that graced stages across North America between in 2015-2016, McCoy Rigby Entertainment is currently presenting its own superb iteration of BEAUTIFUL in the city of La Mirada, marking its Southern California Regional Premiere at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Helmed by director David Ruttura, this enjoyable, highly-entertaining production—which continues performances through December 3—is, to put it simply, quite well done.

The adage that says "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" certainly applies here, as this production—at least visually—aims to recreate the same distinctive look and feel that audiences experienced in the original productions on Broadway, on tour, and in the UK by utilizing the same sets, props, and costumes that have appeared before.

Many who have already seen the show's original productions (including myself) will likely recognize Derek McClane's iconic, texture-specific set design—which resemble woven quilts and tapestries, a likely homage to Carole's groundbreaking debut album Tapestry—as well as Alejo Vietti's retro-tastic flashy costume fits (that include some magical instant costume transformations), which have been brought back for this production.

Music-wise the show again sounds incredible, but this time thanks to the orchestra led by music director Ryan O'Connell, which provides the show its earworm-heavy sonic soundtrack, while choreographer Joyce Chittick's accompanying 60's pop-group-inspired moves—presented by acts that include The Drifters and The Shirelles—are an exciting, nostalgic treat.

Review: Carole King's Life Story Blossoms in BEAUTIFUL at La Mirada
Sara Sheperd as Carole King. Photo by Jason Niedle/Tethos.

But, honestly, the bulk of this production's praises can certainly be heaped on its troupe of super talented actors—from its four outstanding leads to its terrific, awesome-sounding supporting ensemble—who all, collectively, turn in superior, Broadway-caliber, star-making performances both vocally and acting-wise.

Seriously, this cast is just phenomenal. Many of them perform distinctive multiple roles as different members of various chart-topping music acts from the era, providing lots of true jukebox-songs-come-to-life moments throughout the show's hits-heavy first act.

Right at the center of it all, taking on the role of living legend Carole King is the very instantly likable Sara Sheperd, whose pure, lived-in performance is the shining beacon of this entire production, making it easy for the audience to root for her triumphs, both personal and professional. Although she carries and commands herself well, Sheperd also never diminishes the theatrical impact of other actors around her.

And, it goes without saying, that she has an amazing singing voice that doesn't just merely impersonate her real-life counterpart. She sounds so, so good singing Carole's signature tunes like "So Far Away," "It's Too Late," and "Natural Woman"—the latter, of course, many attribute to Aretha Franklin, forgetting the fact that Carole wrote the iconic song, inspired by her own personal experiences as depicted in this musical. Here, audiences are reminded of that oft-forgotten factoid, and Sheperd—in a moment of cathartic ascendancy—sings the song with palpable conviction and wistful hopefulness, considering the journey Carole endured to get to this moment in her life.

This likable persona that seems effortless for Sheperd carries over throughout the show.

Alongside her is a cast of incredible talents that are equally praiseworthy.

Review: Carole King's Life Story Blossoms in BEAUTIFUL at La Mirada
Fatima El-Bashir, Melissa Musial, Jazz Madison, Sara Sheperd (center),
and Kenneth Mosley. Photo by Jason Niedle/Tethos.

As the restless, philandering Gerry Goffin, Carole's co-writing partner-turned-lover-turned-husband, the towering, swoon-worthy Miles Jacoby is compelling in the role and has great, unmistakable chemistry with Sheperd. While Gerry is portrayed as a source of eventual heartbreak for Carole, Jacoby—to his credit—never makes the character out as an outright detestable villain, but instead allows for him to still seem redeemable, if deeply flawed.

Stealing the show with cantankerous goodness is the funny Valerie Perri who plays Carole's hilariously pestering stage mom Genie Klein, a character who, while keenly aware that she has a talented daughter, is also worried about her daughter's unstable, erratic life path.

Meanwhile, the affably fabulous Sara King and Trevor James are just so darn outstanding as songwriting partners-turned-lovers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, respectively (and, to be honest, they were my favorites in this show). They both display a discernible electric spark that never dims, but as individual actors, they are not only blessed with astonishing singing voices (adored King's "Happy Days Are Here Again," and loved James's "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"), but their individual comic timing is a welcome feisty contrast to the more delicate King-Goffin pairing. Cynthia's no-nonsense conviction and Barry's neurotic hypochondria are masterfully perceptible in both actors' wonderful performances.

The 1650 Broadway music "factory" setting where the King-Goffin and Weil-Mann songwriting teams composed most of their hits also provides the actors portraying them with interactions with the formidable Brian Ibsen, who plays their hits-seeking boss, smart-alecky record executive Don Kirshner, who doesn't sing until Carole leads an endearing quartet on "You've Got A Friend." It is also at this workplace where ensemble cast members get to don matching outfits to portray some of pop music's most spectacular music groups that gave Kirshner his hit records.

Review: Carole King's Life Story Blossoms in BEAUTIFUL at La Mirada
Kenneth Mosley, Cornelius Jones, Jr., Domo D’dante, and David Ginlet.
Photo by Jason Niedle/Tethos.

Earning well-deserved ovations are Domo D'dante, David Ginlet, Cornelius Jones, Jr., and Kenneth Mosley as The Drifters; Brianna Brooks, Fatima El-Bashir, Rosharra Francis, and Jazz Madison as The Shirelles; and Brady Fritz and James Larsen as the Righteous Brothers. Also extraordinary as individual solo acts are the adorkable Brady Fritz as cheesy crooner Neil Sedaka; the exquisite Rosharra Francis as Janelle Woods (I won't spoil what this character is also, ahem, involved in); and spunky Jazz Madison as the Goffins' babysitter-turned-"Locomotion" singer Little Eva. The voices and dance moves these triple-threats dish out are worth the price of a ticket alone.

Presented as a two-act flashback, the lovingly reverent BEAUTIFUL—featuring a revelatory book by Douglas McGrath and a cavalcade of nostalgic hit songs from, of course, the composer-lyricist teams of King-Goffin and Weil-Mann—begins and ends in similar locales: Carole's 1971 Carnegie Hall concert. Sandwiched in between these two bookends, we are allowed to peek inside the life of a universally revered artist, and witness how she was able to discover that she can adequately stand on her own, not only as a talented singer-songwriter, but also as an individual human being worthy of respect and love. By extension, this beautiful (haha) show itself earns this likable quality as well.

This ultimately heartwarming, inspirational fact-based story, paired with a songbook of great music, makes seeing BEAUTIFUL (again) a relatively gratifying experience—from its pleasurable, giddy highs to its more melancholy (and, thankfully, not too tragic) lows. Overall, I would not change a single thing about what this production is presenting its audience in La Mirada. Oh, if only all jukebox musicals were this pleasant.

Review: Carole King's Life Story Blossoms in BEAUTIFUL at La Mirada
Jazz Madison, Fatima El-Bashir, Rosharra Francis, and Briana Brooks.
Photo by Jason Niedle/Tethos.

Simply put, as it has before, this charming show definitely lives up to its apt title.

Photos by Jason Niedle/Tethos courtesy of La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Performances of the McCoy Rigby Entertainment presentation of BEAUTIFUL - THE Carole King MUSICAL at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts continue through Sunday, December 3, 2023. The theater is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in the city of La Mirada, CA. Parking is Free. For tickets, visit Click Here or call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.

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