Theatre Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

Date Posted: 05/03/2015

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical has opened in the West End following its Tony award winning performances on Broadway. Alyssa Lim takes a look at whether it was a case of We Gotta Get Out of This Place or if the performance was in fact Beautiful.

I would defy anyone to find someone who hasn’t heard at least a handful of the greatest hits Carole King composed either alone or with Gerry Goffin. The Locomotion, Take Good Care of My Baby, You’ve Got a Friend and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman are just a few of the most recognisable tunes. Add to this You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling and On Broadway penned by King’s competitive rivals and close friends, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann and you have a production showcasing some of the biggest songs from the 1960s.

Directed by Marc Bruni and with book by Douglas McGrath, the story is simple; it follows King’s journey from a teenager eager to succeed in the music industry to the Grammy Award winning success she became. Along the way, we track her relationship with husband and song-writing partner, Gerry Goffin, played by Alan Morrissey, as well as the competitive but affectionate friendship they shared with Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, played by Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh.

It’s a tale of a ‘normal’ girl – as King describes herself in the musical – with a dream, and although the plot is a familiar one, which has been used repeatedly in films and stage productions, the catchy music, touches of humour and cast performances, make this a fantastic feel-good musical.

Katie Brayben plays the title role of Carole King and captures her brilliantly as a vulnerable and kind-hearted character whose success and triumphs make you smile. She is endearing in her warmth of character and enthusiasm and the audience sympathise with her in her marriage to Goffin as she bears the brunt of his paranoia and bi-polar tendencies.

The close relationship King and Goffin share with Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann is almost implausible given their fierce rivalry as they compete for the top of Billboard charts and all of this together, you might think, would make it too sickly sweet. Carole King is almost too sickly sweet. Yet they get it exactly right and it is this that makes you want to sing along to the songs that little bit more.

The relationship between Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann and the performances of Gary Trainor as Donnie Kirshner and Glynis Barber as King’s mother, Genie Klein, add humour to the musical. The show is further enriched by performances on the glittering stage by iconic musical figures, such as the Drifters, the Shirelles and the Righteous Brothers. The performance of The Locomotion by King and Goffin’s babysitter Little Eva is fun with shamelessly, cheesy choreography, that would leave you disappointed were it not included.   

The musical closes as it opens, at King’s 1971 performance at Carnegie Hall. A superstar as a singer and songwriter, she is announced as a multiple Grammy Award winner at the height of her success and closes with the title-song Beautiful. It is a powerful rendition with the song lyrics asking for “a smile in your face,” almost imploring the audience to leave with a grin etched on their face, and I more than happily obliged.    

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical is playing at the Aldwych Theatre, London and is currently booking until February 2016.

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