Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is “Some Kind of Wonderful” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Production photo

This isn’t my first production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, I saw the touring production that came through Minneapolis about five or six years ago, but it is undoubtedly the best. The production has an intimacy and organic flow to the narrative that alluded the national touring Company. Certainly it’s filled with the same great music and I’m sure that previous cast was good, but it’s hard to imagine a better Carole King than Monet Sabel. I remember feeling as if the previous production was simply hitting bullet points on a plot outline. The Co-Directors, father and daughter team of Michael and Cat Brindisi, have wiped away all the disjointed story telling I sensed before and have staged a production that lives and breathes. The smooth and thoughtful handling of transitions and the passages of time create a sense of life moving fluidly forward and of a story unfolding like the images on a tapestry rather than simply taking us from A to B on a road map. The show hits right in my pop music sweet spot, while my friends were moshing to Pearl Jam in high school I was listening to my Buddy Holly, The Beatles, and Billboard Top Rock’n’Roll Hits for the years 1957-1961 CD’s. This music is part of my DNA so I was bound to love that aspect of the show particularly knowing the musical side of things would be handled by Chanhassen’s wonderful orchestra under the musical direction of Andy Kust. They sound suburb as always.

But the show is better than the music, it sidesteps the typical criticisms one levels at the Jukebox musical, it tells a story that features music rather than a story that has a million popular songs awkwardly shoehorned in. Sabel’s performance mirrors that sentiment, it is a natural lived in performance that incorporates singing in its exploration of the character. The songs work so well because King wrote about her life in her songs, even the early teen targeted songs, spoke to her life, whether she was always conscious of it or not. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” speaks to all of us in a way but it is a specific reflection of her own insecurities, particularly in her relationship with her husband Gerry Goffin, played here by an excellent Shad Hanley. Hanley’s speaking voice sounded a little overtaxed, but thankfully his singing didn’t and his character work was solid. Other standouts in the cast were Shinah Hey and Alan Bach as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, fellow songwriters and Carole and Gerry’s best friends. They provided perfect little moments of humor without becoming the comic relief, they had their own arc and their relationships with each other and Carole and Gerry felt substantial. The cast members who collectively played The Drifters and The Shirelles were absolutely fantastic and really showed off some nice choreography by Tamara Kangas Erickson. The leads of both groups, John Jamison II for The Drifters and Quinn Lorez for The Shirelles, are hair on the back of the neck raisingly good.

Part of why the show flows so well is how the Directors handle the transitions. There are a lot of scene changes and in many productions it means deadstage time as set pieces are moved on and off. What the Brindisi’s do for many changes is have the lighting change the character move out of one area of the set continuing on with their scene as the set changes behind them. Eliminating the grind to a halt, blacked out stage, with nothing happening while changes are made that can suck the energy from a shows momentum. Other times the set change is as simple and swift as rotating a piano to a different angle, all of these techniques keep the show moving quickly, sweeping us along rather than leaving us waiting in the dark. One of the key things a Director, or two, needs to do to ensure their production feels fluid is to get the scene changes and transitions right and this is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of doing just that. Part of that success surely goes to Nayna Ramey whose scenic design helped to make those transitions and changes work. I also admired the lighting design by Sue Ellen Berger, which played a role in scene transitions but also contained some fun cues like the starlights that came on over the audience during the song “Up on the Roof”, it was a magical little touch. I also absolutely adored the period costumes from Barbara Portinga including a superfast and crowd pleasing costume change done by Katemarie Andrews as Little Eva as she begins to sing “Locomotion”. 

Whether you think you are a Carole King fan or not, I promise you that you are. You will not want to miss catching this show, you’ll be surprised how many songs you know from Goffin and King and their friends Mann & Weil. One of the things that makes Chanhassen unique is the “Dinner” part of the Theatre. It’s not just the famous Chanhassen Chicken, there are many wonderful options and a great selection of beverages including ice cream drinks and delicious desserts. Sometimes dinner theater means a mediocre meal, that is not the case at Chanhassen, the food is as good as the shows, which are terrific. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs through September 28th at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Chanhassen MN. For more information and to purchase tickets go to and don’t forget they also have two other stages The Fireside theatre which hosts their concert series and Stevie Ray’s Comedy Cabaret.

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Photo Credit Dan Norman

Headshot of Rob Dunkelberger
Rob Dunkelberger

Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content