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Carole King might be the most agreeable, gracious, and modest title character in the history of Broadway musicals. The bio-musical BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL is an oversimplification of the songwriter's life, but the moving performance by Kennedy Caughell from vulnerable to radiant fills in the lean script. James D. Gish, Kathern Boswell, and James Michael Lambert expertly carry their weight and support her with authentic emotional arcs and clear passion for the material and the real-life history they are telling. As jukebox musicals go, it doesn't have the drama of drugs and mafia in JERSEY BOYS or the fictional dad-mystery of MAMMA MIA, but it is dedicated to and enthusiastic about sharing this material and applying retroactive credit for the insanely huge amount of well-known music she composed before achieving stardom. During the show, it seemed like every time a Carole King song started a different audience member would say to their neighbor, "I didn't know she wrote that." That sense of reveal and discovery is the rush that keeps each new scene eagerly anticipated.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of jukebox musical is that every song starts in the real world as either someone auditioning a new song for a producer, or collaborators around a piano working, or rehearsing for a later performance. That lack of the traditional, sometimes awkward, magic music-out-of-nowhere conceit makes BEAUTIFUL feel like a play with music. Granted, the numbers often transition mid-song from Carol (or the other much featured composer, Barry Mann.) at a piano into fully staged, fully orchestrated appearances by the eventual recording artists like The Drifters, The Shirelles, and The Righteous Brothers. But that device pushes the plot (aka Carole's life) in ways other jukebox musicals don't achieve.

Opening with a slice of Ms. King's beloved 1971 performance at Carnegie Hall, BEAUTIFUL then backtracks to Carol at 17 meeting her first husband, Gerry Goffin (James D. Gish). With Gerry as her lyricist, they write songs for Don Kirshner (Matt Loehr, wonderfully gifted for pulling off the loathe-him-one-minute, love-him-the-next challenge) in his Times Square hit factory. The pair meet songwriting duo, Cynthia Well (Kathern Boswell) and Barry Mann (James Michael Lambert); these two are delightful throughout. They are welcome foils for Gerry and Carole and the two teams' friendly competition for charting hits drives the best section of the show. Cynthia and Barry come up with "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", "Uptown", and "On Broadway." Carole and Gerry counter with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Some Kind of Wonderful", and "One Fine Day."

We soon see Carole and Gerry's (streamlined for theatrical purposes) break up and Carole's rebirth starting with shaking her live performances nerves at sitting in with a band in a small rock club and transitioning into her enormously successful move to California and recording of her solo albums, most prominently "Tapestry." Perhaps her magnum opus, "Tapestry" wins her four Grammys (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocalist.)

The ensemble of BEAUTIFUL needs particular attention for deftly covering a myriad of 1960s performers with tremendous victory. Alan J. Plado, as conductor/keyboardist, achieves underappreciated greatness playing all the actors' mimed onstage piano at a Carole King level. Mr. Gish is especially endearing. Somehow he keeps the only real antagonist from being unsympathetic.

Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Carole King, Tina Turner) It seems we are getting fully briefed on the lives of 70s pop/rock stars. And rightly so, use in movies and television keeps them well-placed in pop culture and that generational perseverance makes for fascinating investigations and appreciation of their achievements.

BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL is the most earnest jukebox musical to date. The chord progressions and resolutions felt like being at an oxygen bar. It's ripe with nostalgia, fascinating for its window into 1960s pop and rock music, and spirit lifting for its recording of a beautiful human life.

The show runs through February 23 at Grady Gammage Auditoruim.

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From This Author Timothy Shawver