The 'Beautiful,' Musical Stories Of Carole King Come To The Bushnell

The titles of songs by Carole King could tell quite a little story by themselves.

Her songs are set in such interesting places: "Up on the Roof," "So Far Away."

They offer action and adventure: "Do the Locomotion," "Chains."

They exist in the here-and-now and in the future: "It's Too Late," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"

They brave inclement weather: "It Might as Well Rain Until September," "I Feel the Earth Move."

And they exult over sunshine: "One Fine Day," "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

Above all, Carole King songs are self-aware: "You've Got a Friend" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" have become anthems of empowerment, hope and community.

All those songs and more — including half a dozen by King's friendly rivals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil — are found in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." The national tour of the Broadway hit comes to The Bushnell Jan. 17 through 22.

Rather than concoct a new story out of these jukebox standards, "Beautiful" relates the real-life romances, creative triumphs and personal struggles of King, who became one of the most successful songwriters of the 20th century.

Aspects of "Beautiful" have infiltrated Connecticut already. Rashidra Scott from the show's original Broadway cast starred in "Anything Goes" at the Goodspeed this past summer. The director of "Beautiful," both on Broadway and on tour, Marc Bruni, helmed the business-takeover melodrama "Other People's Money" at the Long Wharf Theatre in November.

Now "Beautiful" is here. The tour began in Providence, R.I., in September 2015, made it to the West Coast a year later and is resurfacing in the East. There have been some cast changes along the line. In Hartford, Julia Knitel stars as King, Liam Tobin is Gerry Goffin, Erika Olson plays Cynthia Weil, Ben Fankhauser (who was at The Bushnell previously in the national tour of "Spring Awakening") is Barry Mann, Curt Bouril is the producer Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner portrays Carole's mom Genie. Those are all the main roles. An ensemble chorus portrays dozens of other characters in King's life, including such famous faces or voices as Neil Sedaka, Little Eva, the Righteous Brothers and the Drifters.

Though he has associate director and assistant director credits going back more than a decade, "Beautiful" marked Bruni's Broadway debut as a director. In a phone interview, Bruni says he's remained "very hands-on" regarding the tour. He's been involved not just with the casting and staging but with getting the newer cast members up to speed.

"The cast is in fantastic shape," he says. "We have a new Carole and Cynthia on the tour, who just started a few months ago."

Knitel is the youngest Carole the show has yet had, Bruni says, adding that she brings a special energy to the role. Before joining the tour, Knitel understudied the role of Carole on Broadway for a year.

"Beautiful" follows King's career from a young songwriter churning out pop hits in the early days of rock 'n' roll with her husband, Gerry Goffin, and their friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to her breakthrough as a solo writer/performer with the iconic album "Tapestry."

"It's amazing how that music, and those stories, have resonated," Bruni says. When pressed on his personal influences, he admits that King's songs were not the soundtrack to his own childhood.

"I grew up in the '80s and early '90s," Bruni says. "I grew up with Duran Duran."

BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL — book by Douglas McGrath, music and lyrics by Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector and others, directed by Marc Bruni — is at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, Jan. 17 through 22. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. $36.50 to $127.50. 860-987-5900,

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