Chilina Kennedy is Beautiful in the Carole King Musical
Note: This review was written in 2017, but Beautiful, starring Chilina Kennedy has returned to Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street, April 9 to May 5.
It is indeed a beautiful story – it’s a journey through life while building confidence. Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, now on stage at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, is the true story of how Carole gained the self-assurance to take charge of her own life. Seeing that journey before our eyes would be enough to make this good theatre, but the story is set against music that will take you on a 1950s and 60s nostalgia trip.
Beautiful is what is known as a juke box musical. The story is built around existing music. Sometimes the juke box musicals come off as a little contrived – Mamma Mia is an example of a made up story created to support the music. But Beautiful is a true story, set against the real music of an era, mostly written by Carole King herself.
And if a great story with beloved music isn’t enough, this show stars two great Canadian performers: Chilina Kennedy and Liam Tobin. Most Broadway tours that come to Toronto feature all-American casts, so it’s a thrill to see two Canadians in the lead roles.
I had the opportunity to see Beautiful on Broadway starring Chilina in 2013, and was very impressed with her Carole King performance. Ms. King herself had coached Chilina when she first took on the role. Interestingly, at that point, a Canadian, Scott Campbell, was the leading man. Another Canadian, Jake Epstein, originally of Degrassi fame, also had that role on Broadway. When it was announced that the touring company would be coming to Toronto for a two month visit, Chilina decided to come home to perform, and traded places with the touring “Carole”. In the meantime, Liam Tobin was playing the part with the touring company – so this is new for Chilina and Liam to be together. But the two of them had worked together before, in a production of South Pacific at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend in 2014. Chilina was Nellie Forbush, while Liam played Lieutenant Cable.
You will recognize Chilina from her Stratford roles as Maria in West Side Story, and Eva Peron in Evita, among others. She appeared in Stratford and on Broadway as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar.
But back to Beautiful. Chilina Kennedy’s performance is brilliant, bringing Carole King to life.
Carole King’s song-writing skills surfaced when she was just a teenager. Despite her mother’s insistence that she should be a teacher, she goes to downtown New York to sell a song she’s written. “It Might as Well Rain until September” becomes a hit and Carole falls in love with Gerry Goffin, who writes the lyrics for her music. When she tells Gerry she is pregnant, he proposes and they marry. They continue to work for Don Kushner (James Clow) who also hires Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser). The two couples become best friends, despite being very competitive over who will have the next hit song. (Spoiler alert: Eventually Gerry’s mental illness and infidelity breaks up their marriage, and Carole finally finds the confidence to perform her own songs.)
All the songs are familiar favourites. Groups such as the Shirelles and the Drifters perform numbers that you will recognize, but you probably didn’t know they were the work of Carole King. When the Righteous Brothers come on stage to perform the huge hit “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, written by Cynthia and Barry, a pleasant gasp runs through the audience.
The show begins and ends with Carole’s 1971 performance at Carnegie Hall, following the release of her hit album “Tapestry”, which won Grammys for Album of the Year, and Best Pop Female. She also won Record of the Year for “It’s Too Late”, and Song of the Year for “You’ve Got a Friend”.
Beautiful perfectly captures her growth as a singer-songwriter, leading to her rise to stardom. Chilina Kennedy’s brilliant performance takes the audience on this journey, enhanced by her powerful vocals and her talent at the piano keys. Don’t miss this beautiful production.
Beautiful –The Carole King Musical continues until September 3 with eight shows a week at Ed Mirvish Theatre. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets. Update – Now at the Princess of Wales Theatre until May 5, 2019.
Photo: Chilina Kennedy as Carole King in Beautiful. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Book by Douglas McGrath
Music and Lyrics by Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Directed by Marc Bruni
Musical Direction by Susan Draus
Choreographed by Josh Prince
Performed by Chilina Kennedy, Liam Tobin, Erika Olson, BenFrankhauser, James Clow, Suzanne Grodner et al
Produced by David Mirvish
Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto Update: Now at Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
June 27 to September 3, 2017 Update: April 9 to May 5, 2019.
Reviewed by Mary Alderson