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Theater review: 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical' -- 3.5 stars

Jessie Mueller

Jessie Mueller Credit: Jessie Mueller and Jake Epstein in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"

It’s been widely reported that Carole King will not be attending any performances of “Beautiful,” the new Broadway musical about her career as a singer-songwriter, allegedly because it depicts painful moments from her life.

Well, she can rest assured that “Beautiful,” a sentimental and sympathetic biography led by a poignant, extremely winning performance from breakout star Jessie Mueller, is slickly staged, genuinely touching and very enjoyable.

It observes Carole as a fledgling composer selling hit singles under the Brill Building system, her unstable marriage to lyricist Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein), friendship with songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector in fine form) and ultimate transformation into a singer in her own right.

It’s pretty similar in plotting to “Funny Girl,” with a Brooklyn-bred, quirky young woman falling head over heels for a handsome guy who eventually deserts her while she succeeds through her talent and strength. Both musicals are also framed as flashbacks, with the man and woman reconciling at the end.

Its score includes countless hits, such as “One Fine Day,” “Up on the Roof,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “So Far Away” and “It Might as Well Rain Until September.”

It lacks the sin and sex appeal in “Jersey Boys,” or the restless momentum of “Motown,” and relies on feel-good nostalgia. Nevertheless, “Beautiful” is unusually coherent, character-driven and sincere for a jukebox musical. And who can resist those songs? So how can this not be a hit?

Mueller, who gained attention for a supporting role in the flop revival of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and went on to other roles, is a talented performer. She portrays King with warmth, stamina and soulfulness, and authentically captures the earthy sound of her voice.

Speaking of “Funny Girl,” if it is ever finally revived, Mueller would make a fine Fanny Brice.

If you go: “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” plays an open run at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. 124 W. 43rd St., 212-239-6200, beautifulonbroadway.com 

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