Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Paper Mill Playhouse
Review by Bob Rendell

Marrick Smith and Kyra Kennedy
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
With Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Paper Mill Playhouse closes its 2024 season with a first rate Broadway musical which magnificently transcends its genre, the jukebox musical.

Beautiful spans with unusual truth and accuracy, the first thirteen years of King's extensive and extended, remarkably successful career as a songwriter-singer (sometimes as composer, sometimes as lyricist, sometimes as both and increasingly a singer). It is a story of success and triumph, and sorrow and pain. The latter is unusual in that it is about the pain of middle-class lives.

Carol Joan Klein was born in Manhattan in 1942 and raised in Brooklyn primarily by her mother, Genie (Eugenia), a performer and theatre critic who gave her daughter a strong education in classical music. Despite her mother's strong objections, the sixteen-year-old Carole was determined to travel with her songs to 1650 Broadway, associated with the fabled Brill Building, home of New York's music publishing industry and the offices of leading music publisher Don Kirschner.

King, who then was attending Queens College, invaded Kirschner's offices accompanied by her college classmate and boyfriend, Gerry Goffin. It was 1958, and after hearing their work, Kirschner hired King and Goffin to join his stable of writers each of whom was squeezed into one of the tiny cubicles into which his offices were divided.

Shortly thereafter, Carole informed Garry that she was pregnant and they were married. Both abandoned their Queens College education in order to provide a home for their newborn daughter, and further their careers via their efforts at Kirschner's offices. Here, these songwriters competed and collaborated on creating songs (e.g., for various artists and other assignments). For a time, King spent her afternoons working an office job and her evenings with the Kirschner crew.

Initially, it seemed that King's lyrics were less highly regarded than her music, and this played a role in Goffin, who already was seeking a writing career, leaving college to collaborate with her as her lyricist

King's early recording efforts were not successful, but she (with Goffin) emerged as a songwriter whose efforts in creating songs and styles were instrumental in the emergence of girl groups. King is credited with the style and its earliest smash hit, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for the Shirelles.

Among the other top songwriters and collaborators with King and Goffin are partners Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Their lives, songs, and relationship with King and Goffin are a preeminent element of Beautiful. Also prominently featured are songs written by/with King's early close friend Neil Sedaka, and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Director Casey Hushion, who seems to be becoming a favorite of Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee, does a particularly fine job of avoiding the slickness which is the mark of jukebox musicals. There is the feel of everyday people appropriate to the depiction of these show business folk. It begins with Kyra Kennedy, who plays King with the enthusiasm and naturalism of a young college kid at the start and a buoyant artist at the end that both encompasses and avoids a slick star turn finish at the end. The frantic and nervous Gerry Goffin, as played by Merrick Smith, smoothly transforms into a young adult who sadly cannot cope.

Samantha Massell plays Cynthia Weil, whose feminist desire to concentrate on a career yields the realization of the happiness to be found in marriage, and Jacob Ben-Shmuel plays Barry Mann, whose gentle and humorous approach to the complications of life wins her heart. Happily, there is no slickness in any of the performances.

Among those portraying the performance artists, I was particularly impressed by Tavis Cunningham, Prentiss E. Mouton, Jay Owens, and Isaiah Reynolds portraying The Drifters. Loose, but sufficient smoothness to hit the entertainment button right on. Their "On Broadway" (Mann and Weil with Stoller and Leiber) is a total knockout. Let's not forget to give credit to choreographer Jennifer Werner here. And just try not to move to the beat of "The Locomotion" as performed by Mikayla White (Little Eva).

Special kudos to sound engineer Steve DeParis, who has restored the Paper Mill's sound system to its excellent capabilities. The late Paper Mill producer Angelo Del Rossi informed me that when the system was not up to par, it was a matter of implementation. Well, it is at its best for this production.

Ultimately, Beautiful exhilarates as the audience palpably reacts to the final victory of Carole King, which Kyra Kennedy conveys to us in song "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." Beautiful.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs through July 3, 2024, at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn NJ. For tickets and information, please call the box office at 973-376-4343 or visit

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical Book by Douglas McGrath/ Words and Music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King/ Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil/ Choreographed by Jennifer Werner/ Directed by Casey Hushion

The Cast: Kyra Kennedy (Carole King) / Genie King (Suzanne Grodner)/ Olivia Palmer (Betty) / Neil Sedaka (Seth Eliser) / Tavia Rivée (Lucille) / Byron Fenkart (Don Kirschner) / Marrick Smith (Gerry Goffin) / Tavis Cunningham, Prentiss E. Mouton, Jay Owens, Isaiah Reynolds (The Drifters) / Samantha Massell (Cynthia Weil) / Jacob Ben-Shmuel (Barry Mann) / Tavia Rivée, Jana Djenne Jackson, Danielle J. Summons, Mikayla White (The Shirelles) / Danielle J. Summons (Janelle Woods) / Mikayla White) / Seth Eliser, Kevin Hack (the Righteous Brothers) / Jana Djenne Jackson, Tavia Rivée, Mikayla White (One Fine Day Back Up Singers) / Kevin Hack (Nick) / Bronwyn Tarboton (Marilyn Wald) / Jana Djenne Jackson (Uptown Singer /Seth Eliser (Lou Adler)