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Critical Review

Student round table discussion at 900 HennepinCritical Review is a student reviewer program offered through Spotlight Education. Students see and review productions through Hennepin Theater Trust’s Broadway Season and streaming services as well as attend workshops lead by experts in the fields of musical theater, writing and journalism. Critical Review is a rigorous writing program that seeks to develop critical thinking skills through arts journalism. Students’ reviews are posted through an online portal which, along with streaming/virtual elements of the program, make internet access a necessity.

Interested students can apply via the button below. This program is free of cost to participants thanks to the generous underwriting of Fred and Ann Moore.


Mean Girls: So good it could make fetch happen! by Anastasia Setter

“Freak!” “Ugly!” These words and many others littered the huge electronic screen in a series of notebook pages amongst many other things which launched the audience of Mean Girls on October 1st at the Orpheum theatre into a beloved 80s film made new in a spectacular display of modern Broadway maximalism. At the sound of the first orchestra hit, each audience member became a high school student, class of archetypes, cliques, and–of course–we mustn’t forget the Plastics.

Mean Girls is the stellar stage adaptation of Mean Girls, the 2004 film directed by Mark Waters. Its brilliant and pristine score written by Jeff Richmond blew the minds of the audience–not to mention pairing perfectly with the lyrics (Nell Benjamin) and the witty signature of writer of both the musical and the film Tina Fey. This musical features new Chicago resident and high school student Cady Heron and her adventures in the bitterness of bullying, the meaning of true friendship, and a gorgeous boy along the way of a road that turns her former African life upside down into an urban frenzy. Every technical choice made was a testament to the high school experience: loud, bright, glorious, and sometimes very, very ugly.

If there is one crucial piece in the set of this show, it is the objects that didn’t even exist on the stage which gave the show the most dimension, setting, and emotion. These digital realities were pictured on a giant wraparound screen which posed as the backdrops for all scenes. This rapidly accelerated the set changes such that it seemed like a film in itself. The screen flicked between classrooms in a fraction of a second, and the lighting levels with it, establishing a realistic picture and making the stage so much larger. There was almost no turnaround time between scenes, keeping the audience constantly engulfed in the happenings. Its novelty and spectacle represented a new and improved future for Broadway in which screens can display the way to film-like reality onstage!

While the actors sang with marvelously crisp voices, especially the breathtaking performance by firecracker Eric Huffman (Damien) who displayed his vocal talent with an impressive amount of dancing, Casey Nicholaw took a remarkable route on the choreography. Instead of focusing on the skill and technique of the individual dancer, Nicholaw distorted the entire shape of the stage in a kaleidoscope of arms, pictures, and a clockwork of movement by the ensemble as one unit. Overall, every impression was given through the defining movement by each dancer onstage to craft Mean Girls into the innovative modern theatre it is.

Every piece put into place, Mean Girls is the perfect show for a current high school student, as it is adapted for modern culture with slang, jokes, and technology that fits the school system. Despite this, mature audiences are suggested in the situation of raunchy humor. Overall, Mean Girls was so fun it could make fetch happen!

Go see Mean Girls; it’ll be fetch! by Syd Pierre

Mean Girls the musical isn’t just a regular musical, it’s a cool musical. With 12 Tony nominations and a national tour beginning only 18 months since the show opened on Broadway in spring of 2018, the show has seen enormous success. Based off of the cult favorite 2004 movie and written by the same witty internet sensation, Tina Fey (SNL, 30 Rock), the movie and musical follow a similar plot.

New girl Cady Heron (Danielle Wade) moved to Chicago from Kenya, armed with a strong need to belong and real-world experiences that rival her classmates’ suburban lifestyles. Immediately appointed a misfit by classically cruel high school students, she finds herself pulled into a friend group with show-choir-singing, “almost too gay to function” Damian Hubbard (Eric Huffman) and the art loving, epitome of teenage angst, Janis Sarkisian (Mary Kate Morrissey). Determined to teach her the ins and outs of high school, the pair is stunned when queen bee Regina George (Mariah Rose Faith) and posse, the Plastics, sweep Cady up into a whirlwind of drama.

Built for a modern audience, the show features a set to match. The set (Scott Pask) has minimal pieces and props, instead relying on fast-paced visual projections. They provide a strong basis for social media posts and swift scene changes when complemented with in-depth lighting design (Kenneth Poser). The music (Jeff Richmond) and lyrics (Nell Benjamin) are catchy but not avant-garde, leaning more towards a softer pop style than a typical Broadway classical style. The choreography (Casey Nicholaw) is flashy and fun, full of energetic ensemble pieces like “Where Do You Belong” and “Who’s House Is This?”

Danielle Wade perfectly balances the stages Cady goes through as she finds herself torn between making difficult choices and friendships. Wade encapsulates both her endearing awkwardness, as well as her fearlessness and taking charge nature. With strong, creative vocals, Wade stars in numbers such as “It Roars” and “Fearless”.

Mary Kate Morrissey and Eric Huffman make a strong case for joining their rag-tag gang with plenty of believable platonic chemistry between the pair. Morrissey brings a fierce belt and emotional depth to Janis, showcasing some of the more devastating consequences of Cady’s actions, such as in “I’d Rather Be Me”. Huffman provides plenty of comedic relief and a spirited tap number in “Stop”, complete with a few self-deprecating one liners.

Mariah Rose Faith scares as Regina, with sneaky manipulation techniques and powerhouse vocals, emphasized in “World Burn”. The other two thirds of the Plastics are Gretchen Wieners, Regina’s eager-to-please secret keeper (Megan Masako Haley), and Karen Smith (Jonalyn Saxer), the quintessential dumb blonde. Masako Haley nails the darker side of the consequences of teenage girl drama, insecurities, and anxieties abound. Saxer is nothing but hilarious, with some of the funnest, random lines in the show, including the number “Sexy”.
Built for the fans but welcoming to everyone, Mean Girls continues to showcase the horrors of high school while emphasizing the importance of kindness, a simplistic but easily overlooked message.

Mean Girls; Delightfully Dumb by Nick Ericksen

School has just started for all of us. We’ve reentered the spiraling whirlpool of classwork, assignments, activities, and to top it all off, Critical Review is starting back up. With all this going on, I say that we deserve to start the season off with some fun. No heavy themes, introspective subject matter, or deep thoughts. We deserve bright colors, flashing lights, and tight harmonies. We deserve some fun, so let’s start the year off with Mean Girls.

The musical style of Mean Girls perfectly aligns with modern Broadway: high notes high notes high notes (back off Hadestown-ers). These singers were asked to deliver on massive belting high notes throughout every number. Such impressive voices were to be expected from characters like Cady (Danielle Wade) and Regina (Mariah Rose Faith). However, Karen (Jonalyn Saxer), Gretchen (Megan Masako Haley), and Janis (Mary Kate Morrissey) all had surprisingly strong performances and showcased a level of talent that I would not have expected from the roles. I believe that all five of the main female characters could have played Regina or Cady. Those who weren’t were able settle into their slightly smaller roles and deliver a great performance of their own.

As for as vocal performances go, the weakest link was Damien Hubbard (Eric Huffman). As a bass myself, I am sometimes unfit to judge the quality of tenors because whenever they open their mouth and sing some semblance of a good high note, I am immediately submerged in awe and envy. However, when in the company of the powerful singers of Mean Girls, Huffman was noticeably a step down from the others in his singing ability. That being said, he was a fantastic dancer and a lot of fun to watch during spoken scenes. All in all, this made of for his mediocre singing relative to his castmates.

Mean Girls is a quintessentially modern musical not only in the vocal and musical sense, but in the technical sense as well. The stage is adorned with giant LED screens that display scenery throughout the show. Not only do these screens speak to the modernity of the show, they speak to the overall tone and nature of Mean Girls: bright and colorful. The costumes, the personalities, and the screens are all bursting with color for two and a half straight hours. It is sensory overload in the best way.

As I said at the beginning of this review, Mean Girls is not deep, heavy, or introspective in any sense. This is in no way a critique or a grievance, but is, in fact, the exact opposite. Coming off of a heavy end of last season (including Rent and Fiddler on the Roof), it was refreshing to sit back and enjoy a show at face value. I had no need to self-reflect after this show, and to that I salute Mean Girls. In a world of complex problems and complex thoughts, Mean Girls has done us the great service of making a show so refreshingly simple and straightforward. It was bright, it was loud, it was
dumb, and it was a whole lot of fun.

A Play to Knock Off Your Socks by Mimi Kol-Balfour

The Book of Mormon is the knocks fun at the pristine, missionary complex egos of white-centric America. Even if the satire is centered around Mormons, there is plenty to relate to about the American white mainstream. The no-fail writing is the best part about this show. You would expect nothing less from this hilarious, cringe-worthy comedy team who created South Park and Avenue Q, Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave just the right amount of self- deprecating humor and satire and have never shied away from social issues including racism and white ignorance. The show follows two naive, wide-eyed 19-year-old missionaries named Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Their mission sends them to Uganda to spread the word of God, as received by Joseph Smith the “All American Prophet”. Elder Price isn’t too thrilled by his assignment in Uganda, or that he is paired with Elder Cunningham, an awkward outsider with a problem of not telling the truth. I won’t spoil the rest, but this is a show that tosses you from one incredible musical number to the next and also makes you slide out of your chair with …I can’t believe they just said that… humor.

Let’s start with the cast-, Elder Price (Kevin Clay), has a shiny. white-teeth, presence. As a fresh out of Mormon school teen, Clay pulls youth off while still managing a strong chest voice and fairly consistent vocals. He takes it all home during my personal favorite number, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”.

Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni), is our female lead. A hopeful Ugandan character responsible for convincing her village to listen to their Mormon teacher “that white boy” and learn the word of God. Not unlike our lead Clay, her voice faltered here and there, and I hoped for a  stronger final in “and I’m gonna fly.” Still she was a well-rounded and delightful. In the number, “Joseph Smith American Moses” she positively sparkled.

The real show-stealer in my book was Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson). Peirson is squeaky-voiced, roly-poly, relatable and sweet. His slapstick was spot on and he knew just when to pull out his dazzling voice without breaking character.

The ensemble was so solid they rivaled the leads. At times their strength, timing and talent carried the show, complete with two voice leaders that tied up the ending with a whirlwind grand finale.  

The lights and sets also captivated. Elevating the story and providing clear definition from scene to scene. The only slight error happened with the follow spot, which wasn’t centered on the actors in the opening number “Hello”. Tech quickly pulled up a texted light which served the purpose but weakened what would usually be a clean beginning. Even with crew starting with a misstep, they pulled it together thereafter.

Book of Mormon is captivating from the time of the first doorbell, making me cry during “Sal Tlay Kah Siti”, and killed me at “wet with salvation”. Recommended to anyone who wants to laugh and who is having courageous conversations along with the rest of the progressive world about what it means to be white and privileged or marginalized and underrepresented, as the case may be. What will be true for anyone who sees the show regardless of race or social standing is it is hilarious, necessary for our times and incredibly politically relevant.  It was in fact a bit ahead of it’’s time when Parker and Stone wrote it in 2011 right before the mainstream white-privilege awareness movement moved center stage. Just leave the youngest kids at home unless you’re ready for some courageous conversations of your own. This is a show with plenty to laugh at but also a lot to think about and may require some maturity to process where we all fit in the spectrum of white dominance in the American dream. Sit back, laugh, cry and go home with an enlighten and refreshing perspective about social justice.

The Book of Mormon: The Hilarious, All-American Musical by Patricia Hernandez

The Book of Mormon was created by Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone; Parker and Stone are the minds behind South Park, an animated show known for its profanity. The show follows two Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, as they embark on their first mission to Uganda. Upon arrival, Price has no success with converting the Ugandan villagers; they reject Mormon beliefs through crude language due to varying problems in their community such as AIDS and pressure from local terrorists. I knew beforehand that there was controversy behind the show’s offensive humor, but as an audience member, I didn’t feel as if the show was truly trying to attack Mormons. Instead, The Book of Mormon promotes themes of human decency and kindness through eccentric humor, whether it be through Mormon practices or not.

Connor Peirson’s portrayal of Elder Cunningham was electric. He never missed a beat; the audience could barely contain themselves from laughing whenever he’d mispronounce Nabulungi’s name (Nicki Minaj, Neutrogena, etc…). In terms of acting, Cunningham’s inability to read social cues as a social outcast were apparent whenever he’d abruptly stop the flow of the show with an idiotic line. Peirson’s energetic vocals in “Man Up” shined when he growled out notes that would put Metallica to shame. Along with Peirson, Corey Jones’ performance of the General in “I Believe” was hysterical. His deadpan face while Elder Price took his hand and sang his heart out about blindly believing as a Mormon sent the audience into fits of laughter.

I was impressed by the chemistry of the Mormons. In “Hello”, a song where each Mormon alternates between solo lines, each individual had a unique character voice and lines followed the other naturally. The Mormons were truly portrayed as a group of guys that had known each other their whole life, judging by how naturally they responded to one another. One thing that surprised me was how engaged the ensemble was. In “Two by Two”, Price and Cunningham had dialogue while the ensemble members had their own little discussions and high fived one another. Even when idle, this group never failed to stay in character.

Technical aspects of this musical enhanced the comedy of the ensemble. The musical opens with an oversimplified explanation of Mormon origins, followed by the curtains being ripped off to expose the present-day Mormons. This style of transition helps to keep the fast pace of the musical, and was also demonstrated in “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” when the curtain displaying Orlando was torn off to reveal the depths of Hell. Costumes and props were enhanced its hilarity; an electric guitar was given to Satan to jam out on, donuts were used as props, and people dressed as giant coffee cups (Mormons are supposed to avoid drinking coffee.)

Absurdity and irony were the main characteristics of this musical. Many dark themes, such as the circumcision of Ugandan women and the repression of emotions in Mormons, are communicated through upbeat and catchy tunes. In “Joseph Smith American Moses”, Cunningham lies to the Ugandans that frogs would cure AIDS in order to prevent villagers from raping babies. The message conveyed is that faith, no matter what it entails, can be used to guide people into following what is right. Even with all the absurd costumes and crude language, The Book of Mormon succeeds in communicating these morals effectively.

The Book of Mormon Review by Soren Eversoll

I don’t think I knew what I was getting into this Wednesday night as the lights came up on the Orpheum Theatre’s stage for The Book of Mormon, the madcap, comedic musical created by the South Park masterminds Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Of course, I’d heard that the show was hilariously funny (though not as much to Mormons), and its origins with the creators of South Park had given me some clue as to what it would be like. Even so, I don’t think any prior understanding I had for The Book of Mormon could prepare me as the first f-bombs started flying and the laughs started coming. And kept on coming.

Of course, Mormon is funny – at some points gut-wrenchingly so — the kind of funny where you find yourself shaking your head and wondering if you’re a horrible person for laughing as hard as you are. The show’s primary edge is its satiric wit, which is as sharp as a razor blade and merciless to whomever may fall victim in its path. Mormonism is not the only thing the show expertly dissects and tosses back like a warped, fun house image of itself – racism, white ignorance, homosexuality, and female circumcision are all touched upon to shockingly hilarious effect. Some of Mormon’s funniest moments come when the humor sounds like someone could have actually said it, moments that left audience members such as myself cringing into their palms. The show is brutally funny and takes no prisoners. For this reason, younger children or anyone who finds themselves easily offended should steer far clear of The Book of Mormon. Swear words, sexual innuendos, and shocking images run rampant from the start of Act One to the curtain call — this is not your grandma’s musical. If you can leave any sense of seriousness at the doorway, however, one should prepare themselves for a fantastic ride.

Apart from the comedy, what surprised me the most about The Book of Mormon was the strength of its other elements. Characters are whisked from such disparate locales as a Mormon Church Training Facility, airport, and a village in Uganda with simple props that glide in and then disappear exactly when they are required to. Large, colorfully painted backdrops enhance the caricature-like, faux-reality that is so inherent to Mormon, while the creative uses of lights are perhaps most effectively shown in the musical’s opening number, “Hello!”, where they serve as the lights of doorways for prospective missionaries. There are particularly notable performances given by Kevin Clay as a straight-laced Elder Price, Connor Peirson as the bumbling Elder Cunningham, and Kayla Pecchioni as the kind Nabulungi. One of the musical’s strongest elements shows through in the group of white-shirted Mormon missionaries, who dance, harmonize, and gleefully teeter on the edge of passive-aggressive insanity in numbers such as “Turn it Off” and “I Am Africa”. It is through these deeply funny parodies that Mormon shines.

Overall, The Book of Mormon is a truly fantastic show, something I’d never seen onstage before and likely won’t again. The combination of gleeful irreverence and spot on caricatures work in perfect harmony to create laughs that will continue long after the curtain closes. Just don’t bring your grandma.

The Book of Mormon Review by Alejandro Eduarte

As I saw The Book of Mormon, running from October 6th to the 18th at the Orpheum Theatre, for a second time, the story seemed to unfold anew from my first time experiencing the show four years ago. The musical, from the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez, songwriter of Disney hits like Frozen’s “Let It Go”, is an irreverent satire of the Mormon church, following two missionaries: Elder Price, a by-the-numbers musical theatre hero, and Elder Cunningham, a typical, flawed, but funny sidekick. The two men are paired together on a mission to Uganda, and hilarity ensues; to say much more of the plot would ruin the irreverent fun that is the first viewing. With another look, the complex boundary between satire and oppressive humor is drawn to the foreground.

Firstly, it is worth noting the production’s technical and performative elements. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting design is superb: sharp, evocative, and dynamic, illuminating the stage generously. The sound design is subtle, and the mixing average. The pit performs the booming orchestrations with flair. Overall, the cast is strong; Connor Peirson’s take on Elder Cunningham is charming and sympathetic, and Kayla Pecchioni’s Nabulungi, despite being underwritten, brings an authenticity to her character’s hope. The rest of the cast is humorous and showy, playing up the exaggerated writing and long, genre-spanning musical numbers with style.

The show is framed by Scott Pask’s set design, where the white interior walls of a church surround the stage’s edges, and I got a sense the show might have worked better as a film. The locations change so quickly, the technical craft is immaculate, and the musical numbers are so showy and self-indulgent, that the experience of live theatre seemed less necessary for the story. In all its polish, it controls your point of view (like a film camera) more than it believes it does: the writing tells a standard story of comedy, strife, victory, with plenty of profanity and shocking moments, however, it fails to grasp who it is actually about. Initially, Elder Price is positioned as the lead, but a third of the way through, he becomes secondary as Cunningham fudges the truth to convince the “undeveloped” Ugandans to join the Church. When the show attempts to reframe Price as the hero at the end, it fails because it has not taken time to examine his growth in the location he has spent so much time trying to escape.

In the show, the Ugandan village is portrayed as a place only of AIDS, hunger, military violence, women’s repression, fear, and spite. What do the people have to offer besides this story? Apparently, harmonious songs cursing God and regurgitating White men’s lies and not much else. It is a shame the show is not more critical of its context, saturated with history of colonialism and destruction that informs the attitudes of the Ugandans. As it only slightly opens up these ideas and jokes at every demographic, I felt a better show hiding: there was a funnier, sharper, better structured (but less fantastical) script beneath the desire to shock with blatant stereotypes and resolution as a White savior narrative. The humor does shock and hit hard, but at what cost?

As Elder Cunningham told the Ugandans his own version of The Book of Mormon, I pondered American society’s right to fantasy and displaying reductive, violent ideas as funny; what it means that we still laugh at them, and give them long Broadway runs, when we know the reality of the history. Let’s laugh at and find out what we are, but also what we can be, and learn to do so while looking back at how we got there.

How One Singer Gets Her Voice by Mimi Kol-Balfour

Opening with Carole King (Sarah Bockel) alone with a piano, singing the iconic So Far Away, the chills crawling your arms tell you that Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is gonna be a great show. King then transforms back in time into an eager teenage songwriter with big dreams. We can see her youthfulness on stage all the way from the balcony. Her giggles and determination emanate into every corner of the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. The show begins in the 1960s as King is eager to sell her songs to a producer and prove her mother wrong. Finally her song gets purchased and she begins to write more, and she meets her future husband, Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach) an alleged flirt she goes to school with. Soon they begin dating and writing music together, her the melodies and him the lyrics.

I say alleged for only one reason, it was told to the audience and not actually shown. I saw the college boy image from Wallach but nothing deeper. This same feeling persisted throughout the show. Though he was a good actor I didn’t feel anything as he spoke. His voice was beautiful and clear but I couldn’t read what little emotion he was showing and I quickly got bored. But that was just a small blip in an otherwise almost flawless performance.

The show is so cleanly put together that even the small problems were overshadowed by the sheer beauty of everything else. I only have few issues, but I started to notice them at the beginning and they carried through. My first being how fast paced the first chapter of her life was set. It glossed over many important details, for example her being a female composer was barely even acknowledged. All of the first part of her life felt so rushed that by intermission I had a headache from trying to keep up. The second act was much slower and easier to follow along and my brain felt very thankful for that.

But there were many aspects of this musical that made it unbelievably fun to watch. I have to give major credit to the ensemble for this because I believe they made the show. The breaks from the story to the singing groups performing King and Goffins songs were flawless. This was made possible by the beautiful set and lighting designs. I was in awe watching every set piece slide on the floor and every lighting design perfectly reflect the mood of the scene and create a mirror to the characters emotions.

This show had many stunning elements, all combining together to be a clear and cohesive beautiful show. The few problems that I had with it were so small compared to the laughs and awestruck feeling you’re sure to get when you go see this show. Yes, this show is worth the 2 and a half hour time slot and the $70 dollar tickets. Plus it’s the perfect opportunity to dress up for the theatre! And who doesn’t love that?

Beautiful: A Story Told Through Song by Jack Molter

Beautiful is the story of one of the most influential artists in all the 20th century, Carole King. From 1955 to 1999, King wrote or co-wrote 118 songs that landed on the billboard hot 100, and also had 61 hits in the UK, making her the most successful songwriter in the UK from 1952 to 2005. The question now is: how could you possibly tell her story in a measly 2-hour 30-minute musical? The answer was through the songs that made her into the titan she was. Beautiful utilizes a myriad of King’s hits in a pseudo-tribute concert to her, while also telling the tale of King finding herself both in her writing and in her personal life.

Taking on the role of King is no easy task either, and this current iteration of Beautiful uses the talents of former ensemble member Sarah Bockel to take on the huge persona of King while she navigates the trials and tribulations of her everyday life. She makes great use of her strong vocals to complete a fantastic interpretation of King, and this role contained especially big shoes to fill after Jessie Muller won the Tony for Best Leading Actress in 2014 for her portrayal of King.

The aspect that made this show truly beautiful though, was the celebration of King’s music. Much of the audience recognized the opening piano chords of her songs and began clapping even before the first verse, and you could tell that this music transported them to a different time in their lives. Perhaps when they were younger or more independent. These songs allowed them a window into one of the most influential artists of their, and other generations. Carole King was to them as The Rolling Stones were to some and as Tupac was to others.

The 60s and 70s were a blitzkrieg for Womens’ rights and King’s music reflected that as well. As more and more women began to abandon and challenge their traditional societal roles, so did King. She had previously allowed her first husband to stray from their marriage in hopes he would see what he was missing and return, but even when he was home, he was never fully there. King ultimately divorced him in 1968 and began writing her album Tapestry, her tale of heartbreak and finding herself. So many people identified with her story, especially women, and her story was just further proof of the revolutions happening every day in American households during the 60s and 70s. In the end though, Beautiful does a magnificent job of telling King’s very relatable story and celebrating her music even if you were a previously a fan or not.

Beautiful’s Lost That Lovin’ Feeling by Mia Scott

On October 23rd, I saw the Beautiful: The Carole King Story at the Orpheum theatre in Minneapolis. The musical followed the life of a young Carole King growing up in the 1950’s and onward. It starts with a King as a college freshman, demanding a live audition of her new song to publisher Donnie Kirshner. It’s an immediate hit! Soon after, King meets the man that will become her first husband and the father to two of her children; Gerry Goffin. As he is a talented lyricist and she is a successful composer, they decide to become a music writing team. As the musical progresses, we see the hardships of their marriage, their friendships with other people at their work, and the overall growth of Carole King as an independent woman. The true story is an inspiring and touching tale that shows that anyone is able to overcome the worst of the worst.

Carole King’s actress, Sarah Bockel, had giant shoes to fill, but I don’t think she quite captured all of King’s glory. Her vocals were incredibly strong, but never really went anywhere throughout the show – save for a stunning moment in the Act 1 closer. Her leading man, played by Dylan S. Wallach, was definitely lacking. He, like Sarah, had a beautiful voice and a controlled vibrato, but there was little emotion in his portrayal of Gerry. The secondary leads, Alison Whitehurst as Cynthia and Jacob Heimer as Barry, gave pleasant and cute performances. Though the leads left something to be desired, this show would be nothing without the phenomenal ensemble. Small groups of the chorus served as different prominent groups that performed Carole King’s music, such as The Drifters and Janelle Woods. Their upbeat and lighthearted numbers showed off their vocals and movement, and transformed the audience into a glamorous 1970’s nightclub.

The real stars of the show were all of the technical elements done by Derek McClane, Alejo Vietti, and Peter Kaczorowski. The show was performed on a moving strip across the stage that changed the set during short transitions and brought pianos on and off stage. The lighting told a powerful story in the show. The show starts light and peppy, and ends with Carole King on a black stage with her piano and a spotlight on her as she sang the closing number, “Beautiful”. Additionally, each person on stage had costume after costume, all of which were varied and made the characters look stunning and era-appropriate.

Beautiful: The Carole King Story was not the blockbuster hit I expected. Although it was cute and touching, it felt as though nostalgia the audience felt is what carried the energy of the show. Although the ensemble gave a fun performance that showcased their talent, and the set design elements were interesting to watch, this show would not be one I consider worth seeing — especially if you are not a diehard fan of Carole King herself.

Beautiful: One Fine Show by Elizabeth Vang

Who knew Carole King wrote so many iconic songs? All of “her music is marked by forgiveness, compassion, and warmth” exclaims playwright Douglas McGrath – which is what makes her unique as an artist and as an individual. Her musical works have impacted the lives of many. Beautiful made its official debut on Broadway in January of 2014. Since then, it’s gone to perform at West End and has had three tours in three different countries, which includes the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. The show, as a whole, allows us to relive King’s life with her. At the age of 16 she fights her way through the record business, and by the time she’s in her twenties is married to the love of her dreams with a successful, blooming career. All is well until her personal life begins to slowly fall apart; however, through some time of healing is able to find her true voice.

Before heading to the show I was able to get a quick read of the synopsis. I was in for a surprise because I didn’t know much of Carole King. Sarah Bockel’s (Carole King) vocals in the first song gave me absolute chills. Bockel’s facial expression and body language had me engaged right away! She was strong, fierce and intentional with every single movement. The opening scene for 1650 Chicago was powerful and amazing! All the color, flashing lights, and colorful costumes really wowed me! Everyone on stage was always actively engaging which is what gave the scene SO MUCH energy!

Although everything was visually pleasing, it was hard to hear the words to some of the songs. At times the pit overpowered the vocalists which made it hard to hear and understand the lyrics. This made it difficult for me to fully indulge in the full emotional impact of the songs. Despite the lack of balance between pit and vocals, the facial expressions and body language of the actors made up for it — which really helped with understanding the intention of the songs. Nevertheless I do expect for sound issues to be resolved for future performances.  

What seemed to look like many stacked old stereos as the backdrop was clever. In one scene, they used the backdrop as a place to hang their coats when they came back from skiing. The set as a whole gave the audience all the 60s vibes. Everything ranging from the props to the Brooklyn accent and slang gave the audience the feeling of time travel.

Experiencing Beautiful: The Carole King Musical gave me a sense of what American culture was like during King’s time. Although I may have not grown up during her time or with her music, the strength and passion behind her songs resonate loudly to all who knew her music and to those sitting in the audience. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and highly recommend this to those who enjoy great classics from the 60s!

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical review by Stella Mbomba

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a show everyone must see. Running at the Orpheum Theatre now through October 27th, this hit displays the tumultuous life journey of Carole King — then Carole Klein — and her path to finding her true voice. The book, written by Tony Award-nominee Douglas Mcgrath was published in 2014, and the show currently plays on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim theatre, along with every city on the national touring list.

As for my reaction to the show, I was completely blind walking in, hoping that this choice of mine would help to eliminate any bias that could cloud my judgement.  As a result of this choice, I had no idea what to expect when the lights dimmed, and the booming twelve member orchestra kicked off the show. The start of the show captures one prominent aspect of the musical, the extent in which the show appeals to your senses. The music is booming, filled with grand vocals that warm your heart and soothe your soul. In addition, the lighting elements correspond well with the mood of each scene, popping in ways that draw your attention.

As for the characters, there was not one character that didn’t evoke emotion within the audience. Filled to the brim with jokes, characters such as Genie Klein played by Suzanne Grodner, Don Kirshner played by James Clow, and Barry Mann played Jacob Heimer swept the audience into laughter as they came to life across the stage. The titular character Carole King, played by Sarah Bockel, electrified the audience with time stopping vocals and emotional range that was fantastic to watch. Several other characters shined on stage, like with the stunning group performances of the Shirelles and the Drifters, played by McKynleigh Abraham, Marla Louissaint, DeAnne Stewart, Alexis Tidwell, along with Dimitri Joseph Moïse, Deon Releford-Le, Nathan Andrew Riley, and Michael Stiggers Jr, respectively. The group performances coupled with accurate, eye catching costumes truly made the performances one of a kind.

In addition to the show appealing to your senses, the show also pulled at your heartstrings. The acting of the characters together with the technical elements, such as the lighting and the set made everything feel much more real. I personally felt as though I was drawn in completely, as if I was the only person in the room watching. Along with that, a detail of the show that stood out to me was the transitions within the show. There was a smooth transition of time within the show, which made comprehension of the plot much easier.

Above all, what I personally enjoyed most about the show was the aspect of learning. The show opened my eyes to the impact Carole King has had on music, and how common her art is. I was shocked at how many times during the show I realized that she had had a hand in the making of a song that I listened to often.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical included grand vocals and acting, along with a beautiful set and amazing lighting elements that brought the whole show together. In the final analysis, all of these details together make this show one of a kind, and a show that I would wholly recommend to the fullest extent of the word.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical supplies the music, but lacks the energy by Syd Pierre

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a jukebox, biographical musical that tells the story of renowned singer-songwriter, Carole King. The show opened on Broadway in 2014 and was the winner of two Tony Awards; including Best Sound Design and Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Since then, the musical has had two North American tours, a production in London’s West End, and a UK tour. Beautiful has returned to play at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis from Oct. 23 to 27.

The musical opens in on King’s first concert, playing at Carnegie Hall in 1971, as King  (Sarah Brockel) introduces herself and tells the audience how she got her start in music. The show then flashes back to a younger and spirited 16-year-old King as she attempts to break out into the rapid-paced music scene during the early 60’s. She soon meets Gerry Goffin (Dylan Wallach) who became her songwriting partner, and later, her husband. The dynamic duo writes hit after hit, producing more than two dozen top chart hits throughout their partnership together, including “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “The Locomotion”, and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. King and Goffin become close friends with another songwriter duo, Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer) and Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst). However, industry pressure and relationship struggles soon prove too much for King and Goffin, resulting in a divorce and the two talented writers part ways. The musical concludes with King’s individual successes as she transfers from a songwriter to a sing-songwriter sensation in the early 1970s; closing with King’s Carnegie Hall concert, as she reflects on her what has become of her career so far.

Bockel has a fierce belt, Brooklyn accent, and King’s earthy voice as she shows sparks of King’s spirited personality and fierceness throughout the beginning of the show. However, this fierceness is covered up by Bockel’s tendency to overemphasize King’s down-to-earth-qualities and conflicted emotions, which comes across as timid and frumpy as her personal struggles draw out into the second act. King’s infectious energy and charisma finally emerge towards the very end of the show, when she records and performs her own songs, finding success and happiness from music again. Wallach is convincing as Goffin, but he comes across as one-dimensional during dialogue heavy scenes and the depth of his character only emerges during moments of conflict or certain songs.

Like most jukebox musicals, the plot and pacing of the show is fast-paced. In the first act, the show is jammed packed with musical numbers that heavily outweigh the dialogue. Theatergoers from the Baby Boomer generation and Generation X will enjoy the bombardment of hit songs from the 60’s, while younger generations will have to wait for the end of the second act to enjoy songs from King’s best selling individual album, Tapestry. Though uncommon at the Orpheum Theater, the opening night show was unfortunately plagued with sound issues; microphones cut out and ensemble members were drowned out by the talented, but too loud orchastations, which made for a frustrating viewing of the show.                                                

Beautiful does an excellent job showing off King’s successes, as both a singer and songwriter, as well as the music industry during the 60’s and early 70’s. Fans of King’s musical will enjoy the music, but the rest of the show lacks what King is well known for, personality and energy.


  • To develop and enhance critical thinking, self-expression and analytical writing skills
  • To provide a unique and engaging forum for students learning outside of the classroom
  • To provide high school students the opportunity to develop an appreciation for live theater

Elements of the program

  • Participants see up to eight live theater performances, often touring Broadway productions, at the Orpheum, State or Pantages theatres and write reviews
  • Opportunity to review press materials provided to the professional media
  • Workshops with professionals in the theater and journalism fields
  • Tour of one of the Trust’s historic theatres
  • Student reviews posted on the Hennepin Theatre Trust website and Spotlight’s Critical Review  reviewer site

What participants are saying:

“I LOVE Critical Review so much! Going to see all of those plays was so amazing. I really appreciate what the program has done for me.”
-Diamond Billinger, Critical Review student

Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best performances I have seen this year, tied with Wicked and Spring Awakening. There is no one better than Chaim Topol to tell the classic story of family hardship and change.”
-Sara Sommers,  Critical Review student

“I have loved Rent ever since I saw the movie. Being able to see the stage version with two of the original cast members was beyond amazing. It was so much fun and definitely an experience I’ll always remember.”
-Alicia Battle, Critical Review student

Critical Review 2019 – 2020 includes students who represent the following 22 Minnesota high schools:

Andover High School

Apple Valley High School

Cretin Derham Hall

DeLaSalle High School

Eagan High School

Edina High School

Elk River High School

Highland Park Senior High School

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Pierz Healy High School

Robbinsdale Cooper High School

Southwest Highschool

Spring Lake Park High School

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Totino-Grace High School

Visitation School

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