The Carole King Musical’ is a joyous triumph on stage

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This weekend, Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando presents the Tony and Grammy award-winning “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at the Dr. Phillips Center.

Sara Shepherd, Sara King, Ryan Farnsworth and James D. Gish
Photos courtesy of Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Beautiful tells the story of American singer/songwriter Carole King, from her early days selling her first songs to recording her hit album, “Tapestry.”

Along the way, King and her writing partner (and eventual husband) Gerry Goffin, produced dozens of hit songs such as “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “The Locomotion” for musical groups such as The Drifters. and The Shirelles.

The story delves into the difficulties of King’s first marriage and her journey to finding herself as a songwriter and performer.

belle carole king the musical the wanderers
Torrey Linder, Edwin Bates, Isaiah Bailey and Ben Toomer, The Drifters

Fans of King’s music (and really, fans of pop music from the last fifty years) will be delighted to rock out to the performances. Even when the songs weren’t immediately recognizable from their opening beats, by the time they reached the chorus, they all came running back.

Between the songs King has performed herself and the hits she’s written for others, her scope of work is truly dizzying and her range is on full display. Attempting to compress nearly twenty years of songwriting into just a few hours has the unintended consequence of making every song suddenly seem like it came fully formed and at exactly the right time.

Broadway
Matt Loehr, James D. Gish, Sara Shepherd, Ryan Farnsworth and Sara King

By the sixth or seventh time the characters mention that they just might have a song that might work for the situation and go on to sing another of King’s many hits, the track becomes a little predictable. Also, when dealing with the real life of a real person, the drama and conflict sometimes seems a bit forced by the writer in order to form a more compelling story. These are two common issues with many jukebox-style bio-musicals and, being minor quibbles, don’t take anything away from the stellar performance and presentation.

While the entire cast plays ably, the real star is Sara Shepherd as Carole King. Thanks to her outstanding performance, we see very different versions of King over the years, from a horny and spunky teenager to a woman worn down by the stresses of her career, marriage and children, and back to a renewed and invigorated performer excited for what the future holds.

Sheperd plays the piano, sings and performs with all his heart on stage for almost the entire duration, leaving only to change his costume and hairstyle. A true powerhouse, Shepherd’s performance is not to be missed.

Sara Shepherd as Carole King
Sara Shepherd as “Carole King

Carole King’s music has a timeless quality to it, and “Beautiful” takes every opportunity to shine it. The murmurs of recognition and gasps of joy that rippled through the audience each time another classic hit began are proof of that.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” plays Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15 at the Dr. Phillips Center before continuing its nationwide tour.

For tickets, visit drphillipscenter.org and for more information on upcoming tour dates, visit beautifulonbroadway.com/tour.

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