BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL at The American Theatre Guild, A Beautiful Broadway in Wichita Theatre League Closer
Centered around Carole King's life and biography, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is an appropriate cap to The American Theatre Guild's 2018-2019 season. This first national tour is filled with well-rounded, talented performers from all over the United States, including members who have been a part of the company for three years or more. Though the script itself for this pseudo jukebox musical may be a bit lacking compared to favored classics such as Cinderella, seen earlier in the season, the individual vocal and acting abilities are worth paying full ticket price.
Leading the cast of twenty-four, in addition to the technical crew, is Illinois Wesleyan alum Sarah Bockel. Bockel's representation of the real-life Carole King takes the audience a bit of time to warm up to especially since she has the challenge of narrating the story from different time periods and flashbacks throughout. It's not until the second act that Bockel truly shines singing King's iconic song 'You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman' and the captivating finale, 'Beautiful' both reminding the audience that we do not need a partner in life to make us happy or successful, and to ultimately accept our beautiful flaws that make us special. Opposite Bockel is Dylan S. Wallach as divorcé Gerry Goffin. Wallach is a strong actor and just as strong singer, particularly during 'Up on the Roof.' Another stand out and not to mention knock-out bombshell is Alison Whitehurst as Chynthia Weil. Her rendition of 'Happy Days Are Here Again' will make you wish you had a recording of it even though her role in the show is to simply help write the lyrics to some of Kings' works and not sing the music, though she proved she is just as capable in carrying this classic tune.
There are wonderful showtunes worth mentioning. 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling,' made famous by the Righteous Brothers, is powerfully sung by bass-baritone Jacob Heimer and tenor John Michael Dias. It's the people of magnificent color nonetheless that truly steal the show with the '1650 Broadway Medley' at the top of act one sending the audience into doo wop musical theatre heaven. There are wonderful solos and moments from this stellar ensemble whose ultimate message is that it does not matter what color your skin is, but if you can whale, you can whale. Songs 'On Broadway,' 'The Locomotion,' and 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' are particular examples to pay attention to for when watching the touring production, sending the audience back in time when songs actually had melodies. Head vocalist for 'The Locomotion' is Alexis Tidwell, whose regional credits include The Wiz as Dorothy. Tidwell is a natural on stage and takes the solo to a whole other level leaving patrons truly begging and drooling for more. I could go on and on about each of the talents from this ensemble, but this review could be a thesis. It's only worth seeing in person.
The nice thing about this production as a closer for The American Theatre Guild is it has similar technical and script elements from previous shows in the season that only an artistic eye can appreciate and understand. The set, mostly rolling onto to stage smoothly without the aid of stage hands, rings eerily similar to the set of Jersey Boys with recording studios, two-story levels and absolutely stunning concert lighting. Costumes designed by Alejo Vietti magically change on stage similarly to the techniques used in the Cinderella revival. And though Carole King was no Eva Peron, she certainly rocked our nation.
I had a chance to meet up with some of the cast after the show and discuss with them Century II and if it was accommodating to their needs. Unfortunately, the review is in, and the cast commented their set was bigger than the size Century II can handle. Their recommendation is to tear down and build a brand new, state-of-the-art facility, particularly with better sound and I could not agree more. In order to keep up on a national fine art playing field, it is time to start fresh and build new. The question remains when and how that initiative will take place and what the fate of such arts organizations will be who call Century II home. In the meantime, The American Theatre Guild has announced their upcoming 2019-2020 season which includes Cats, Bandstand, Waitress and Sponge Bob the Musical. To renew your season tickets, you can visit a representative on the first floor in Century II during Beautiful or by calling 316.303.8100.