Sara Sheperd as "Carole King" in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." The production is an inspiring true story of King's remarkable rise to stardom as part of a hit songwriting team with her husband, Gerry Goffin. The musical continues at the Kennedy Center through Jan. 22. (Courtesy photo)
Sara Sheperd as "Carole King" in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." The production is an inspiring true story of King's remarkable rise to stardom as part of a hit songwriting team with her husband, Gerry Goffin. The musical continues at the Kennedy Center through Jan. 22. (Courtesy photo)

Top R&B hits from the ’60s and ’70s often lead fans to think of Motown Records in Detroit, Stax Records in Memphis and Philadelphia International in the City of Brotherly Love. 

But the Brill Building in New York City served as another R&B music stable, cranking out hits by The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Chiffons, Little Eva and the Righteous Brothers. 

Carole King composed many chart-topping hits in the Brill Building which led to her successful career and serves as the subject of the award-winning production “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical,” now on stage at The Kennedy Center through Jan. 22.

Sara Sheppard plays the role of Carole King, born Carol Joan Klein. The musical follows King as a 16-year-old college freshman and aspiring songwriter who becomes one of America’s most successful composers and singers.

“Beautiful” opens with King’s mother, Genie Klein, played by Rachel Coloff, trying to steer her daughter into a more practical career choice of being a teacher. The road traveled by King was not smooth, and through Sheppard’s performance, the audience feels every bump. 

While at college, King meets her first love, Gerry Goffin. She becomes pregnant and the college coeds marry. With King’s music and Goffin’s lyrics, the couple served as a perfect musical match. After a few moderately successful compositions, the songwriters reached No. 1 with the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It was the first No.1 hit by a Black female group.

Philadelphia native Danielle Herbert portrays one of the Shirelles. Like other ensemble cast members, Herbert takes on multiple roles. Several costumes and hair changes happened with split-second proficiency. 

“Half of the cast has already done this,” said Herbert, who also played Lucille, a Brill Building executive assistant to music executive Don Kirshner. “Beyond being a Shirelle, as Lucille, I had a lot of specific things to do with that character.”

In the interview with Herbert, she admitted not being too familiar with King beyond King’s hit “It’s Too Late.”

“It wasn’t until I got into the show that I learned so much about her life,” said Herbert, who has also been a backup singer for Jill Scott. “I was amazed by this living legend.”

Songs composed by King and Goffin illustrated the good and not so good King/Goffin marriage. The Drifters’ hit “Up on the Roof” was where Goffin could escape to clear his head. “One Fine Day” was the image of the good times of the King/Goffin personal and professional collaborations. “Natural Woman,” the 1967 Aretha Franklin hit, was the joy of love King felt with Goffin. “Chains” by The Chiffons spoke to the couple’s declining relationship.

The competitive music industry also remains on display in “Beautiful.” Composers and lyricists Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, played by Ryan Farnsworth and Sara King, served as competitors to King and Goffin. In the musical, the Mann and Weil characters provided ample comic relief. The couples became good friends and supporters. Weil and Mann also scored their own hits with “On Broadway” by The Drifters, “Uptown” by The Crystals, “Walking in the Rain” by The Ronettes and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” by the Righteous Brothers. 

Kirshner stoked the competition. He later became the late-night pop music television host of “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.”

The primarily boomer-aged audience at the musical swayed side-to-side with every song. The cast represented a tightly-disciplined unit working hard while enjoying audience approval. The final ovation had the entire cast and audience singing “I Feel the Earth Move” from King’s Grammy Award-winning album “Tapestry,” one of the most successful albums in Billboard history now celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Looking for an evening of nostalgia with a superb cast? The audience at the Kennedy Center enthusiastically approved “Beautiful.”

“It’s such an uplifting show. It helps you get through because the music is stellar night after night,” said Herbert. “The bows are the part I love. It feels like a rock concert every night.”

For ticket information, go to The Kennedy Center website (


The Washington Informer


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Brenda C. Siler

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Kennedy Center


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Beautiful: The Carole King Musical


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Brenda C. Siler

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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