By Victoria L. Dammer

Dazzling. There are over fifty synonyms for the word dazzling, but it’s the first one that popped into my mind when describing Beautiful: The Carole King Musical now playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

Kyra Kennedy, who plays the beloved singer-songwriter and musician Carole King, made her Paper Mill debut in a full house. Kennedy’s acting, and most notably, her powerhouse singing, captivated the audience as she took them on a journey from King’s humble beginnings in Brooklyn by showcasing a dozen songs she had written in collaboration with her husband Gerry Goffin (Marrick Smith), to her first solo performance at Carnegie Hall after winning four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for Tapestry.

At 16, King had the moxie to take a medley of her songs to music publisher Don Kirshner (Bryan Fenkart), who had set up a music factory in Times Square for up-and-coming artists. King had already met the love of her life, Goffin, and they began a partnership that transformed the music world in the 60s. They made music and history until their divorce in 1968, writing such songs as It Might as Well Rain Until September, Some Kind of Wonderful, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, and their first Billboard number 1 hit The Loco-Motion. Geffen and King’s 17-year-old babysitter, Little Eva (Mikayla We), recorded the hit song in 1962.

It wasn’t just the music that was spectacular; it was also the choreography and the costumes. Theatergoer Barbara Dickisson remarked on The Drifters (Tavis Cunningham, Prentiss E. Mouton, Jay Owens, Isaiah Reynolds) performance of On Broadway. “The synchronized, slinky dance in silver two-piece suits and black ties was sexy–they had swagger.”

We were also privy to the amazing, friendly, and competitive battle for chart-topping music between Geffen and King, and the incredibly talented singer-songwriter duo Barry Mann (Jacob Ben-Shmuel) and Cynthia Weil (Samantha Massell). This rivalry resulted in Billboard hits we love and remember, like Walking in the Rain, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, but the most memorable hit You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, all performed during the musical.

The women’s costumes were alluring and shimmery, the men were dapper. The insight into the marriage between King and Geffen, which worked at first, but broke apart with infidelity, was heartbreaking, but it resulted in King becoming an even greater solo artist. Love doesn’t always keep you together. Beautiful entertained, made you laugh, and made you cry, as most in the audience had been along for the King-Geffen journey in the past few decades.

If you can get a seat in this once-in-a-lifetime production at the Paper Mill Playhouse, don’t hesitate. 26 songs and 26 rounds of thunderous applause will make it worth it.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Book by Douglas McGrath; words and music by Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; directed by Casey Hushion;

WITH Kyra Kennedy, Bryan Fenkart, Marrick Smith, Samantha Massell, and  Jacob Ben-Shmuel.

The ensemble includes Tavis Cunningham, Seth Eliser, Kevin Hack, Jana Djenne Jackson, Andrea Levinsky, Prentiss E. Mouton, Jay Owens, Olivia Palmer, Thomas Ed Purvis, Isaiah Reynolds, Tavia Riveé, Aaron Robinson, Danielle Summons, Bronwyn Tarboton, Giselle Amarisa Watts, and Mikayla White.

Music by arrangement with Sony Music Publishing; scenic design by Roman Tatarowicz; costume design by Jen Caprio; lighting design by Jess Creager; sound design by Sun Hee Kil; choreography by Jennifer Werner;  conducted by Wendy Bobbitt Cavett.

Performances through July 3rd. The running time is about 165 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

The Paper Mill Playhouse,  22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041.