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Michigan Avenue - 2015 - Issue 8 - Winter - Sandra Lee

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRUCE GLIKAS (MUELLERS); JOAN MARCUS (BEAUTIFUL) teens, when she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffi n, wrote The Shirelles's hit, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Over the years, her voice joined the chorus that defi ned a genera- tion. And along the way, she blazed a trail for independently minded women, offering a role model to those aiming for a career in music, and inspiring countless others who lived their lives far from the spotlight. Celebrating her life in song, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical arrives at the Oriental Theatre this month, with Chicagoan Abby Mueller in the title role. In the kind of twist that only show business seems to deliver, Abby is stepping into the role for which her sister, Jessie, snagged a Tony Award. "This was not on my radar at all," she shares, "but the opportunity to audition came up, and it was such an honor to be considered for the role. I called Jessie before the audition; it was important to me to get her okay. She's been very supportive." Marc Bruni, who has directed both Muellers in the show, says that while each is a unique talent, the sisters share one quality. "They are very humble," he says. "And they bring that to this story of a woman who was herself very humble and didn't really want to be a star. That reluctance to embrace stardom and [instead] make it all about the work makes them really captivating to watch." Raised in Evanston, Abby, the oldest daugh- ter of actors Jill Shellabarger and Roger Mueller, appeared locally at such venues as Drury Lane and The Marriott Theatre before heading to New York six years ago. Beautiful is her biggest break yet, and she's quick to acknowledge her good fortune—and the responsibility that comes with it. "It's my job to pay homage to Carole and that sense of honesty that was her trademark," she notes, "that vulnerability that people hear that makes her music just so relatable." While her distinctive sound is achingly clear in such classic songs as "You've Got a Friend" and "So Far Away," King was no pushover when it came to orchestrating her career. "What I really admire was that she was completely dedicated to having her career in the way that she wanted," says Mueller. "She had children early on, and she said, 'I'll make this album, but I'm not going to tour.' She stuck to her guns and did things on her own terms." Charting King's personal and professional evolution, Beautiful moves from her Brooklyn girlhood to a career-solidifying Carnegie Hall concert in 1971. It's a showbiz story, shot through with an appreciation for a singer who always seemed more a friend than a star—and, as its title song suggests, an artist who kept on keeping on. "Despite setbacks, despite heart- breaks, you have to try," muses Abby. "Write another song. Or fall in love again. 'You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart.' Not too shabby a message to live by." December 1–February 21, 2016, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., 800-775-2000; MA SK ETCH ARTIST As the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival fêtes its 15th year, the ever-witty Brian Posen is still going for big laughs. BY MEG MATHIS Funny guy Brian Posen has a seriously full schedule: The Lincoln Park resident is the head of Beginning Improvisation at The Second City and an adjunct theater professor at Columbia College Chicago, and every Saturday he and The Cupid Players perform Cupid Has a Heart On, the city's longest-running musical comedy, at Stage 773. Posen is also the founder and executive producer of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (aka Sketchfest), the nation's largest festival of its kind. Here, the self-proclaimed "sketch geek" shares how the event continues to celebrate the next big thing. What are you most excited about for Sketchfest 2016? "The talent is going to be incredible because we took the best groups over these past 15 years, invited them back, and almost all of them are coming. The biggest problem this year is going to be, 'Which show do I see?' There is not going to be a weak link—everything will be exceptional." You've said that the fi rst Sketchfest was a fl uke. How has your vision evolved year after year? "It keeps evolving because how the industry has changed in 15 years is huge. Fifteen years ago, you didn't have video capability like you do now; there's now a huge explosion of solo sketch, which is a new subsection of sketch comedy; women are being a hell of a lot more dominant in the industry, which is wonderful; college groups are now part of creating sketch comedy as well as high schools and junior highs.... There was a time [when] we had to make the decision: Do we expand, do we go to bigger stages? And we said, 'No.' I'd rather turn people away, because once you get this intimate art form on a stage [in front of] 800, it loses some of its beauty." January 7–17, 2016, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., 773-327-5252; ABOVE: Meet the Muellers: Andrew, Jessie, and Abby. RIGHT: Four Friends: Abby Mueller (Carole King), Becky Gulsvig (Cynthia Weil), Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann), and Liam Tobin (Gerry Goffi n) star in Beautiful. CULTURE Hottest Ticket 66 MICHIGANAVEMAG.COM

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