Sunday, February 4, 2024

Preview of the Regional Premiere of "Beautiful: the Carole King Musical" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

For their third regional premiere in a row, following the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers' favorite musical of 2023 The Prom and the crowd-pleaser Jersey Boys, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is bringing Beautiful: the Carole King Musical to their main stage (note: there was a production in Alexandria MN last summer at Theatre L'Homme Dieu, but this is the first one in the seven-county metro area). You can still catch the Frankie Valli jukebox musical Jersey Boys now through February 24, but beginning March 1, the Chan is moving on from the Jersey boys to the Brooklyn girl (as noted by director Michael Brindisi). I was fortunate enough to be invited to a special preview event last Saturday afternoon, which made me even more excited to see the show this spring. Beautiful premiered on Broadway in 2014 and ran for over five years. The first national tour came to Minneapolis for two weeks in the fall of 2015, about which I wrote, "Although it feels at times like a baby boomer tribute concert, Beautiful truly is just that - beautiful - as it celebrates this remarkable woman's talents and life story." A tribute concert that also tells the true story of the woman behind all of these iconic songs - what's not to love about that?!

To play the role of Carole King, they're bringing in NYC-based actor Monet Sabel, who was a swing in the Broadway production of Beautiful and has also played the role of Carole on tour (although not the one that came to Minneapolis). She'll be surrounded by a bunch of local faves, including Shad Hanley as her husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin, and Shina Hey and Alan Bach as another songwriting couple Cynthia Weil and Barry Man. And for the first time in his many decades at the Chan, Artistic Director Michael Brindisi will share directing duties with none other than his daughter Cat Brindisi, who grew up at the theater and is a super talented artist in her own right. Unfortunately Cat had lost her voice and was unable to join Saturday's event, but it's clear from the way Michael spoke about the partnership that exciting things are in store. They hadn't even started rehearsals yet (they begin this week, with many hard-working ensemble members rehearsing Beautiful during the day and performing Jersey Boys at night), but already Cat has brought new ideas to Michael about things he's never thought about, while he brings his years of experience to the table as well. It sounds like a fantastic partnership that is adding the energy of a new generation of theater artists to the wisdom and experience of the previous generations.

In addition to the conversation with Michael Brindisi, the event (hosted by the treasure that is Nancy Nelson) also included a brief talk by legendary local music report Jon Bream. He told us how Carole King (née Carol Klein) started piano lessons at age 4, and had perfect pitch. When she got pregnant as a teenager, she married her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin (she wrote the music, he wrote the lyrics). They proceeded to write a bunch of hits in the '60s, while raising two daughters. Their first big hit was "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" sung by The Shirelles, followed by "Take Good Care of My Baby" by Minnesotan Bobby Vee (about whom the History Theatre created a jukebox musical a few years ago), and of course "Natural Woman," sung by Aretha Franklin. In 1968 the couple got a divorce, and Carole moved to L.A. with her daughters, which introduced her to a whole new music scene and culminated in her recording her old and new songs. Her second album, Tapestry, was a huge success, winning four Grammys and remaining on the Billboard chart for 313 weeks. The musical covers this span of her life and ends with Tapestry, but Jon filled us in on her post-Tapestry accomplishments, up to today at the age of almost 82.

We were also treated to a few songs by the cover band River (comprised of Aimée Lee, Deb Brown, and Jana Anderson), who regularly sing songs of Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and of course Carole King. For this show they only sang the latter (some hits featured in the musical including "Natural Woman" and "I Feel the Earth Move"), but you can see their full concert featuring all three women at the Chanhassen's Fireside Theater in June.

Michael told us that his and Cat's goal for this show, along with everyone working on it, is to make it the best production of Beautiful ever done! With that attitude, it very likely will be. Tickets are on sale now for Beautiful, which begins performances on March 1. I'm looking forward to seeing it at the best press night in town on March 8.

You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face

And show the world all the love in your heart