Arts and Culture

Review: Powerful casting elevates Carole King musical at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres  production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."
Monet Sabel (right) and Shad Hanley (left) play Carole King and Gerry Goffin in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' production of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."
Courtesy of Dan Norman and Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

With biographical musicals, especially of living people, the main actor can make or break a show. Luckily for Minnesota audiences, Monet Sabel’s turn as Carole King in “Beautiful,” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres honors the singer while bringing her own voice to the role.

Sabel offers a terrific performance as the grinning, prodigiously talented singer-songwriter. Donning a New York dialect and King’s iconic curls and boasting an impressive set of pipes, it’s no wonder why she has played the role in other productions — including as an understudy on a national tour.  

“I had been a huge fan of the show for many, many years,” Sabel told me in a preshow interview in her dressing room. “I think because of the story and it’s so heartfelt, and because of the music and the sound is so different than kind of a traditional Broadway score.” 

Monet Sabel plays Carole King
Monet Sabel stars as Carole King in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' production of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."
Courtesy of Dan Norman and Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

The story focuses on Carole King’s rise to fame and her rocky relationship with her first husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin. The story details King’s mental anguish and Goffin's romantic affairs.

The show premiered in 2013 with a ploddingly undercooked book, and its script is still boring, relying heavily on nostalgia for King’s music and corny namedrops and cameos from notable figures of the time.

A good 20 minutes of Act One is just a montage of some of the famous numbers from the era that King and others wrote. These moments recall the pitfalls of jukebox musicals, which can feel like tribute concerts with a throughline.  

But with this production, the cast and band keep you engaged with the story at hand, rather than cliches and callbacks.

Director Michael Brindisi gets a lot from his cast, dispensing with some of the more traditional staging. This comes through, especially with moments in which Sabel’s King speaks in pointed asides to herself and the audience.

As for other performances, Shad Hanley’s Goffin has a James Dean quality; it’s hard not to sympathize with him despite his moral failings. He is strongest during Act Two.

Then, the mounting stress of writing hit after hit collides with his deteriorating mental health. Alan Bach and Shinah Hey play friendly rival composer duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil with real levity, bringing humor and wit to the complex relationship the characters have. 

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres  production of “Beautiful.”
“Beautiful: the Carole King Musical” is currently running at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
Courtesy of Dan Norman and Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

My only true issue with the show is its reliance on blackouts to accomplish scene changes. The story has a delightful set, featuring bright yellows, oranges and blues that soak the stage, with three large platforms that offer layers for dance numbers and intimate scenes — imagine if “Laugh-In” and “Soul Train” collided.

Constantly shutting off the lights to shuffle around stage properties is distracting and ultimately hurts the show’s pacing.  

While the overall story of “Beautiful” may not be as interesting as the actual life of its subject, this Chanhassen production is ultimately a love letter to King and her contemporaries, that gives heart and warmth through powerful performances and originality.  

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
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