Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Cincinnati Landmark Productions
Review by Rick Pender | Season Schedule

Also see Rick's reviews of The Match Game and The Chosen

Sydney Higgins
Photo by Tammy Cassesa

Cincinnati Landmark Productions' Warsaw Federal Incline Theater is marking its tenth anniversary with a well-sung production of Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, the opener for its "Summer Classics" season. In fact, 2024 is also the tenth anniversary of the jukebox musical's opening on Broadway. It's a trip down memory lane for anyone who tuned in to pop music in the 1960s and '70s. Songwriter King's evolution into a hit-making singer is a story of personal triumph, told in the context of marital challenges, professional competition, and infectious melodies.

Sydney Higgins has the voice and the unruly mop of hair required to play King, a role that was an award winner for Jessie Mueller on Broadway. Higgins is a confident onstage powerhouse with a strong alto sound, almost too much so in the few moments when she's supposed to show some vulnerability. But given that Beautiful is more about the music than the patchwork story of King's rise to fame, Higgins turns in a fine, steadily listenable performance.

Matching her vocals is spunky Amanda Marasch as Cynthia Weil, King's friend and songwriting rival. King and Weil became acquainted early in their careers and their marriages–King to Gerry Goffin (played by Greg Moore) and Weil to Barry Mann (Evan Rodgers)–produced a remarkable array of No. 1 hit songs that were often inspired by the ups and downs of relationships, and are used to tell the stories of these young talents early careers. Beautiful's enthusiastic ensemble keeps the beat moving with direction by Jay Goodlett and a lot of vigorous choreography by Jenny Goodlett, kicking off with a "1650 Broadway Medley" in Act I and "Chains" in Act II.

The book spends a lot of time touching on the moments of hit song creation, but it doesn't dig very deep into the motives for the characters' behavior, so the story feels a little too predictable. Goffin and Mann are necessary players in the story, but actors Moore and Rodgers don't have many opportunities to help us understand their actions. Goffin's erratic behavior, frustrated demeanor, and episodes of unfaithfulness as well as Mann's initial characterization as a ladies man feel shallow. However, especially in the second act, the support for King that Marasch and Rodgers offer as Weil and Mann delivers a solid emotional note when they join Higgins to perform "You've Got a Friend."

There are plenty of remember-when moments in Beautiful. Hit songs from the '60s are performed by ensemble members as The Shirelles ("Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow") and The Drifters ("Some Kind of Wonderful" and "On Broadway," especially, featuring Flowy Ebony as the animated lead voice), and there is a bouncy rendition of "Pleasant Valley Sunday" featuring the entire ensemble. Also noteworthy are spirited renditions of Neil Sedaka's "Oh! Carol" (Tre Taylor III plays the singer, who dated King in high school), Little Eva's "Locomotion" (Yolee Louis shines as King and Goffin's babysitter who was gifted with this hit), and the moody "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers (Dylan Perez has the requisite dreamy baritone for Bill Medley's contribution).

Higgins' soulful delivery of the show's title number is the perfect capper for the production. The cast comes together after the curtain call for a joyous performance of "I Feel the Earth Move" that had audience members humming as they left the theater. Beautiful offers a panoply of music that baby boomers fondly recall. The Incline's "Summer Classics" season will keep the beat going with Jersey Boys (May 20-June 23), Peter and the Starcatcher (July 10-August 4), and Jimmy Buffet's Escape to Margaritaville (August 21-September 15).

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical runs through May 12, 2024, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions, Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit or call 513-241-6550.