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'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' star wins critical praise

Jessie Mueller sings onstage during the "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical" press preview at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in New York, Nov
Jessie Mueller sings onstage during the "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical" press preview at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in New York, Nov

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jessie Mueller, the star of "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical," may not be a household name yet, but some critics predicted on Monday that she could be after her performance in the new Broadway musical.

The New York Post described the casting of Mueller, 31, in the lead role of the show that charts the rise of the songwriter from her early days penning hits with her first husband Gerry Goffin to a solo career and her 1971 multiple Grammy-winning album "Tapestry" as "inspired."

"Mueller's hardly a household name," the newspaper said after the show's opening night on Sunday. "But her engaging, moving performance here should make her one."

USA Today praised Mueller's voice, range and comic sensibility and described her as "one of our best young musical actresses."

The New York Times said Mueller, a Tony nominee for her role opposite Harry Connick Jr. in 2011's "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," has been a Broadway star in the waiting for several years but with "Beautiful" she became one.

"Much of what makes Ms. Mueller's performance so touching is its projection of a lack of confidence," the newspaper said.

"There's humility to Ms. Mueller's Carole, part of whom wants only to be a good Jewish wife and mother, preferably in the suburbs," it added.

The Hollywood Reporter agreed.

"She conveys the burgeoning singer-songwriter's creative drive while wrestling quietly with her ingrained, old-fashioned sense of the expectations for a wife and mother," it said.

CONNECT-THE-DOTS STORYLINE

But while critics lauded Mueller's portrayal as the chart-topping legend, they were less enthusiastic about the production that included songs such as "So Far Away," "It's Too Late," "Up on the Roof" and "I Feel the Earth Move."

Like "Jersey Boys" and "Motown: The Musical," shows that have been drawing crowds on Broadway, "Beautiful" is about real people and the music they created.

In addition to Mueller, former "Spider-Man Turn off the Dark" star Jake Epstein plays Goffin and Anika Larsen ("Avenue Q") and Jarrod Spector ("Jersey Boys") portray their best friends, songwriting couple Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

But unlike other shows, critics said "Beautiful" lacks drama and originality.

"The early life and career of legendary singer-songwriter Carole King surely deserves more imaginative treatment than the corny chronological storytelling and old-fashioned musical format of 'Beautiful'," said the trade magazine Variety.

Director Marc Bruni said he found the catalog of music that King, 71, produced and her story an irresistible combination for a Broadway show.

But the New York's Daily News newspaper said although the entire cast delivers, a musical needs more than great music.

"The book is crucial, too - and this show's connect-the-dots story line is so simplistic that the extravagantly talented King's life emerges as a mundane version of the long-suffering little woman," it added.

The New York Times thought it lacked originality, saying it was a "friendly, formulaic bio-musical."

Although the Hollywood Reporter said the show was constructed around the songs and had little character development, it found it "entertaining boomer bait" with great songs, referring to the baby boomer generation who grew up with King's music.

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and James Dalgleish)

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