"Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical" has been a source of Chicago theater pride since its 2013 debut. And it will continue to be so when "Beautiful" makes an eight-week touring return to Chicago starting this month at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Evanston native Jesse Mueller originated the title role of the best-selling singer and songwriter for both its San Francisco tryout and its Broadway debut. When Mueller won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, it was touching for local theater fans who remembered her acting start at venues such as the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace and the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.
Mueller's older sister, Abby, later launched the national tour of "Beautiful." She played King with a huge hometown welcome for the musical's 2015 Chicago premiere.
Now, the role falls to yet another Chicagoan: Jeff Award-nominated actress Sarah Bockel is starring as King on tour.
"It's been great," said Bockel, noting that she, too, was with the "Beautiful" tour launch. "It's kind of ingrained in my brain now."
Bockel played the ensemble role of Betty, in addition to understudying Abby Mueller as King. When her 18-month tour contract was up in March, Bockel returned home to Chicago.
As a nonunion Chicago actress from 2010 to 2014, Bockel had starred in storefront theater productions such as Bohemian Theatre Ensemble's "Floyd Collins" and "Parade," The Hypocrites' "Into the Woods" and Haven Theatre's "The Wedding Singer." But now as a member of the union Actors' Equity Association, Bockel found she had to go through a period of readjustment with local casting agents.
"I was auditioning and I didn't get a lot of callbacks," said Bockel, adding that she kept busy taking voice-over classes and singing with a wedding band. "The theaters need to get used to you, and obviously they have to pay you more money."
But then the producers of "Beautiful" called Bockel and asked her if she wanted to take over the role of Carole King for the tour's third year.
"We had a week of rehearsals and then I was in," she said.
Making the transition easier was her friend, Andrew Brewer, who also was bumped up from the ensemble to play King's husband, songwriter Gerry Goffin.
"That was amazing because we learned the roles together in 2015 and rehearsed together, so it wasn't a whole new person to get used to," Bockel said.
Bockel has enjoyed reuniting with touring cast members such as John Michael Dias, who has been with "Beautiful" since the tour's launch. Dias has local connections playing Frankie Valli in the Chicago company of "Jersey Boys" and as an early member of the singing quartet Under the Streetlamp.
"I always joke that if the 1960s didn't exist, I wouldn't have a career," Dias said. "It's really weird, too, since I'm playing Neil Sedaka. If you remember, there was a line in 'Jersey Boys' where they say, 'Frankie's OK, but he's no Neil Sedaka.'"
Dias laughed when he said he wasn't looking forward to his fifth winter in Chicago. But he hopes that local audiences will return to "Beautiful" out of a sense of local pride.
"How cool is it that both times the show has been in Chicago, it is Chicago girls who are playing Carole?" Dias said. "It will be a great draw."
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"Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical"
Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Dec. 10), 2 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday (no matinee Dec. 6), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; now through Jan. 28