“On Friday, February 5, 2016, I was able to see the production of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical!” While I was in New York City in 2015, I opted to pass on seeing “Beautiful” in order to see two other Broadway productions — “Kinky Boots” and “Brothers in the Bottom.”
When the Carole King musical production arrived in Chicago, I still was not motivated to see it. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the music of King — after all, I knew all too well the lyrics of “Natural Woman”, “I Feel the Earth Move”, “Will You Still Love Me” and the ever recognized “You’ve Got A Friend.” I think I wasn’t motivated to see it mainly because I wasn’t interested in another biographical tale of yet another musical artist UNTIL…I started having conversations with people who shared just how many other artists King either wrote for or how many artists (that I adored) covered her music.
Photo: Marquee of The Oriental Theater, Chicago, Illinois
“Locomotion” — Little Eva, “One Fine Day” — The Chiffons, “Will You Still Love Love Me” — The Shirelles, “Chains” — The Beatles, “Up on the Roof” — The Drifters, and of course Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” and James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” — these are all classic songs, thanks to King, that are woven throughout the American songbook.
During the performance, I was amazed at how many King compositions I didn’t know she wrote. With my head bopping back and forth, feet tapping and snapping fingers, I openly sang along with the cast, and I was proud that I knew all the words to most of the musical numbers featured in the production.
It is also important to note that despite her prolific composing career, this delightful musical production highlights her emotional roller coaster marriage and partnership with one of the world’s best known lyricists — Gerry Goffin. That aspect, deeply focused on in the production, illustrates King’s vulnerability, her human desire to hold on to love even when it is not healthy to do so, and her talent for incorporating those painful experiences in her music, along with the greatest gift of all — human resilience!
Photo: Musical Genius Carole King
I also had the opportunity to see another production at The Court Theater “Satchmo At The Waldorf” two days after seeing “Beautiful.” Based on the book “Pops” by Terry Teachout, the drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, this is a moving story line bound to cause you to reexamine Armstrong.
The Court Theater (Chicago) production centers around Armstrong’s performance in the famed Empire Room of The Waldorf Astoria as the landscape for a virtual one man performance (the only other voice in the play belongs to Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser) showcasing his life as an African American musician and all of the challenges that accompanies that journey, particularly as it relates to racism.
This production of “Satchmo” features famed actor Barry Shabaka Henley as Armstrong, and he channels him expertly. Henley’s portrayal provides great depth, elicits an emotional intimacy with the audience that comes forth as you are immersed in the dialogue of some of Armstrong’s painful memories and the unfortunate destruction of his relationship with his manager.
It isn’t happenstance that Henley, himself, is a native of New Orleans; his understanding of jazz and the spirit of one of our great American cities permeates throughout his performance. Henley has appeared in numerous films — “Ali” with Will Smith, “Collateral” with Jaime Foxx and Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg’s “Terminal,” and after Edward James Olmos left television’s “Miami Vice” as the superior officer, Henly took over in the role as Lieutenant Martin Castillo. He is a great character actor, and his performance in “Satchmo at The Waldorf Astoria” showcases his solo acting skills. He did one outstanding job! “Satchmo at The Waldorf” is currently on the San Franscisco stage, as well.
Photo: Actor Barry Shabaka Henley
Photo: The Master — Louis Armstrong