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From songwriter to bestselling female artist – A review of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

You can feel the Earth move in The Phoenix Theatre Company’s rendition of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. 

The musical has been on- and off-Broadway since 2014 and is being given new life in Phoenix. Starring Hahnna Christianson as King, the lively jukebox-style production looks into the life and early career of the Grammy Award-winning artist. 

The show follows King from her first encounter with popular music publisher Donny Kirschner in 1960 to the recording and release of her most recognizable album, “Tapestry.” Highlighting her troubled relationship with her former husband, Garry Goffin, the show has many emotional highs and lows conveyed very well by the cast and directors Michael Barnard and Vincent Vanvleet. 

The cast of the musical is surrounded by a very versatile set that matches the mid-century modern woodwork that was popular at the time. Many mobile set pieces that complement the mid-century feel transform the space from the office King had at Dimension Records to her early family home in New Jersey, a recording studio and more throughout the performance. 

The lighting at the Phoenix Theater Company is spectacular at setting the various moods of the musical. Rainbow lights line parts of the set and turn on during performances of songs King wrote for many other popular artists in the 1960s before releasing her own album.

Christianson and Naysh Fox brought to life the songwriting husband-and-wife duo of King and Goffin. We observe the couple from when they meet at Queens College through their divorce, with a heartfelt moment at the end of the musical. 

The two wrote much of the soundtrack of the ‘60s with songs like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” but right on the other side of the wall was their friendly competition, Barry Mann (portrayed by Justin Albinder) and Cynthia Weil (portrayed by Caelan Creaser) who also became their good friends. 

The conflict for the majority of act 1 was to see whose song would “go all the way” and head to the Billboard Hot 100 while also looking into their personal lives. The audience sees these characters in many different parts of their lives. The actors did a great job of portraying the dimensions and depth of these musicians. 

In the last century, we have seen many musicals based on an individual's life or historical event that bring well-known popular music songs into theaters rather than original music, also known as jukebox musicals. What is unique about this musical is that it features many living artists. 

King is still alive today, a fact that can be stressful for actors knowing that the character they are playing on stage could be seen by the person who inspired the role. This did not hinder the actors from delivering a confident performance.When Christianson sang “Too Late” on stage towards the end of the musical, this reviewer could feel the raw emotion that the actress brought to life and imagine what King was feeling. 

Tickets for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Phoenix Theater Company will be available through April 28 on their website, here.

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