‘Beautiful’ is lovely: Feel the earth move with vibrant take on Carole King’s life at Paramount

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” — 3.5 stars

It might be an oxymoron to call a toe-tapping and funny musical gripping, but “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” playing at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre is just that.

The bio-musical puts you in the piano seat with the groundbreaking singer-songwriter, multiple Grammy Award winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honoree.

Led by Tiffany Topol’s penetrating performance as King, a strong cast eats up the script that journeys from nervous Brooklyn teen Carole selling music producer Donny Kirshner on “It Might as Well Rain Until September” to her Carnegie Hall triumph.

What distinguishes “Beautiful,” directed by Jim Corti and Johanna McKenzie Miller, from medley musicals that drape nonstop hits around weak plots is how the fairy-tale story closely follows King’s life.

One central element is her relationship with Gerry Goffin, King’s musical partner and first husband.

The Shirelles, played by Lydia Burke, right, backed by Shelbi Voss, left, Ariana Burks and Marta Bady, belt out “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Courtesy of Liz Lauren

As Goffin, C.J. Blaine Eldred makes a compelling transition from a smart and talented romantic hero to an unhinged and unfaithful spouse.

He’s a limelight-stealing foil for Topol’s King, the no-drama, hardworking wife, mother and composer whose brilliance is overlooked.

And though it’s called “Beautiful,” the musical has some excruciatingly uncomfortable scenes as Goffin unravels in front of King and their friends lyricist Cynthia Weil and composer Barry Mann.

In contrast, the couple’s creative rivalry with Weil and Mann to top the Billboard charts is irresistible as they crank out gem after gem like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “On Broadway,” “One Fine Day” and “The Locomotion.”

A pregnant Carole King (Tiffany Topol) gets a marriage proposal from Gerry Goffin (C.J. Blaine Eldred), her first husband and original songwriting partner in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Courtesy of Liz Lauren

As Weil and Mann, Rebecca Hurd and Christopher Kale Jones, who comically fall in and out of, and in love again, have strong voices and chemistry.

Ian Paul Custer brings a “Mad Men” panache to Donny Kirshner, while Laura T. Fisher as King’s mom, Genie Klein, is very Brooklyn.

Over 2½ hours, the musical deals with unexpected pregnancy, racism, sexism, adultery and mental illness.

The Drifters — Corey Barrow, left, Calvin Scott Roberts, Corey Barlow and Averis I. Anderson — rock the house with “Some Kind of Wonderful,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Those issues play out to a contagious sound track from an effervescent ensemble with standouts including Ariana Burks as Little Eva and Marta Bady as Janelle Woods.

Adding to the effect is spot-on costume design by Theresa Ham covering three decades of fashion, from the Shirelles’ 1960s shocking pink outfits to King’s 1970s hippie chic.

There’s definite chemistry between the songwriting team of Barry Mann (Christopher Kale Jones) and Cynthia Weil (Rebecca Hurd) in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Courtesy of Liz Lauren

But, in the end, it’s Topol’s tapestry. Her epiphanic declaration to the high-maintenance Goffin that their daughters deserve better and “so do I” is riveting, and her unique voice singing “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” is … beautiful.

Note to parents: Fears King’s music may not appeal to the Swiftie generation were groundless. The 13-year-old accompanying this reviewer laughed at the jokes, loved the songs and pronounced it “snazzy.”

• • •

Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666,

Showtimes: Various times and dates through June 16

Tickets: $28-$79

Run time: 2 hours 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

Rating: The show includes some mature language and themes

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