The 2014 Tony Awards having now passed us by, this is an opportune moment to look at recent original Broadway cast albums that we have not yet discussed.
Leading the pack is Beautiful: The Carole King Musical [Ghostlight]. This show came to Broadway relatively unheralded but garnered good reviews, great word-of-mouth and worked its way into the sell-out class. (Sell-out, as in a steady $million-a-week hot ticket.) By any definition, it is a pop music jukebox musical. This might put a damper on one's expectations; see Baby, It's You!, or rather don't see Baby, It's You! But it's a joyous and Beautiful entertainment, featuring a clutch of grade-A songs from Carole King and a lovingly exuberant performance by Jessie Mueller.
New York theatregoers have met Mueller before. In the misguided On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, she stole the show and the spotlight from the nominal star, a washed-out Harry Connick, Jr. The reconfigured 2012 revival bordered on unwatchable — the adapters altogether ruined the logic of the show by splitting the leading lady role in two, for starters — but Mueller transcended it all and earned high marks from critics and audiences. She further demonstrated her comedy prowess as Helena Landless in the 2012 revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, followed by a stint as Kelli O'Hara's replacement in Nice Work If You Can Get It. (I expect Mueller was good in this role, although I personally found one viewing of that show more than enough.) She was an altogether delectable Carrie Pipperidge, though, in the one-night-only 2013 Carnegie Hall concert of Carousel with that same O'Hara as her pal Julie Jordan.
Over two seasons, Mueller earned so much good will that her presence in the Carole King musical reflected well on the upcoming enterprise. Everything came up roses for Mueller, as it turns out; she took what would otherwise be a likably winning musical and — by her presence — turned it into the most enjoyable new musical of the season.
Mueller's Tony Award-winning magic transfers well to the original cast recording from Ghostlight. It is logical to suppose that some Carole King fans would do just as well listening to their old Carole King albums, sure; but Mueller sings the songs in the character of Carole King, adding an emotionally winning element to "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "It's Too Late," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Beautiful." Mueller, one can imagine, is going to be singing these songs in nightclub and concert hall appearances for the next 40 years.
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