Carole King’s music-filled bio ‘Beautiful’-ly told at Paramount in Aurora

Tiffany Topol portrays music legend Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, now through June 16 at Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
Credit: Liz Lauren

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is a show whose title tells you it’s about prolific singer-songwriter Carole King, her music and her life. While life doesn’t always go the way you want it to, that’s OK because – as we’re told early on by Carole (Tiffany Topol in a new production at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora) – “sometimes when it doesn’t, you find something beautiful.”

I’ll cut to the chase: If you go to the Paramount production, you’ll be the one to find something beautiful – a wonderfully staged and performed jukebox musical about a female King who reigned over the pop charts.

She’s the complete opposite of a one-hit wonder – more than 400 of her compositions have been recorded by over 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles and six Grammys. The Kennedy Center honoree was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (as a performer and a songwriter).

“It’s Too Late” was a huge hit for Carole; fortunately for you, it’s not too late to become a fan of her music and of “Beautiful.”

The musical, which was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2014, and won two, focuses on Carole King’s life, of course, but Douglas McGrath’s Tony-nominated book of the show wisely delves into the lives of others in Carole’s orbit, including Gerry Goffin (C.J. Blaine Eldred), the lyricist who became both her professional partner – writing the words for many King tunes – and her ultimately troubled romantic partner. We also meet Donny Kirshner (Ian Paul Custer), the famed rock music producer and talent manager. Donny is the first in the music business to recognize Carole’s talent, when she comes to his office as a 16-year-old college freshman and successfully pitches him a song.

Christopher Kale Jones (left) plays Barry Mann and Rebecca Hurd plays Cynthia Weil, Mann’s wife and songwriting partner, in Paramount Theatre's Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Credit: Liz Lauren

Two other principal characters are composer Barry Mann (Christopher Kale Jones) and lyricist Cynthia Weil (Rebecca Hurd), who develop their own successful working and personal relationship. Many of the funniest lines in “Beautiful” are Barry’s (after “The Loco-Motion” becomes a Goffin-King hit for Little Eva [Ariana Burks], who’s been providing child care for Carole’s infant daughter, Barry wails to Cynthia, “They’re getting hits with their babysitter!”). Barry loves the humor and talent he sees in Cynthia, providing a nice contrast to the many trials Carole faces in her marriage.

Ariana Burks plays Little Eva, leading Paramount’s ensemble in a performance of the famous 1962 dance song “Locomotion,” co-written by Carole King, in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Credit: Liz Lauren

With the support of an 11-piece orchestra, the Paramount production gives its ensemble cast the opportunity to do snippets and full versions of many songs with a connection to either Carole, Gerry, Barry or Cynthia – ranging from “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “One Fine Day” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” to “Up on the Roof,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (Luke Nowakowski and Matt Thinnes perfectly executing that Righteous Brothers classic).

Tiffany Topol plays Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Paramount Theatre’s 12th Broadway Series finale. Credit: Liz Lauren

Let’s talk about the actors for a moment. Topol is outstanding as Carole. While her singing voice will remind you of Carole, her subtle acting is the kind that Jefferson Awards are made for. Custer, Jones and Hurd also have an easy camaraderie on stage with Topol. When the four of them come together on “You’ve Got a Friend,” you feel the chemistry and the sadness as one of the four prepares to move across the country.

When Carole develops the confidence to sing her own songs, which in many ways mirror her life, Topol’s performance has brought us to the point of applauding Carole for surviving her heartbreak to record the Grammy-winning “Tapestry” album in 1971. We know the story has a happy ending, but thanks to Topol’s portrayal, “You’ve Got a Friend” should be renamed “You’ve Got an Audience Full of Friends.”

Meet The Shirelles - Lydia Burke (right), backed by (left, from left) Shelbi Voss, Ariana Burks and Marta Bady - in Paramount Theatre's Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Credit: Liz Lauren

Costume designer Theresa Ham deserves praise for the wide range of outfits worn by these characters – from chic and stylish (those worn by Cynthia) to sparkly (for The Shirelles and Janelle Woods during their concert/TV performances in the show) to the gradually more coordinated attire worn by Carole as she comes into her own. I also enjoyed the well-staged dance routines (“The Loco-Motion” and songs with synchronized movements such as “On Broadway” and “Some Kind of Wonderful”); thank you, choreographer Kenny Ingram.

One request for the sound design team: please boost Topol’s mike a bit during some of her softer dialogue. I wanted to easily hear every one of Carole’s thoughts.

Thanks to the talented actors, the musicians and co-directors Jim Corti (Paramount’s artistic director) and Lombard native Johanna McKenzie Miller, this production of “Beautiful” definitely will entertain you. Go for the music, but get wrapped up in the story. Order your tickets now before the show closes June 16. Otherwise, “It’s Too Late.”

• Paul Lockwood is a communications consultant at Health Care Service Corporation in Chicago, as well as a local theater actor (including in the ensemble of the upcoming inaugural season of Woodstock Shakespeare Players), singer, Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, columnist, and past president of TownSquare Players. He and his wife have lived in Woodstock for more than 23 years.


• WHAT: “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”

• WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

• WHEN: Wednesday through Sunday until June 16

• INFORMATION: 630-896-6666,