Beginning with the now famous Carnegie Hall concert in June 1971 to celebrate her seminal album Tapestry, Beautiful the Carole King Musical, quickly flashes back 14 years to a 16-year-old King (then just plain Carol Joan Klein) about to sell her first song (It Might as Well Rain Until September) to Don Kirshner at Aldon Music. In the blink of an eye, King has a new name, is pregnant, married to the man who would become her world-famous song writing partner, Gerry Goffin, and churning out hit after hit.
King’s isn’t a tale of sunshine and rainbows, there’s a world of pain behind the boppy pop songs making it more than the straight-forward jukebox musical: young motherhood and marriage, self-doubt and Goffin’s mental collapse and chronic infidelity. It also explores the friendly rivalry between Goffin and King and fellow song writers (and real-life partners) Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann at their Times Square hit factory at 1650 Broadway. The relatable human aspects of the tale, despite the fame and acclaim of the main protagonists, give it a greater resonance with its audience.
For all the moments of drama the story is pretty functional but it still manages to tug at the heart strings in all the right places. The story having been given the inevitable American gloss-over, it’s left to the songs to carry the tale. And what songs: Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Up on the Roof, One Fine Day, The Loco-Motion and Pleasant Valley Sunday from Goffin and/or King, and Mann and Weil’s Walking in the Rain and On Broadway, to name a few. If there’s one criticism of the music it’s that many of the songs are presented as works in progress, snippets rather than full production numbers and it leaves you, on most occasions, begging for more, more, more. The full production numbers like the Drifters On Broadway and particularly The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Barry Mann’s rendition of We Gotta Get Out of This Place and King’s own (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman and You’ve Got a Friend give you goose bumps.
Bronté Barbé, while not entirely the epitome of King, her voice is a tad nasal, does capture her essence, and when at full belt is utterly electrifying. Amy Ellen Richardson’s Cynthia Weil is a knockout, her energy levels and roof-raising voice are a treat. Kane Oliver Parry is a nicely judged Gerry Goffin, the object of our ire for the evening, and Matthew Gonsalves excels as the fantastically comic, and hugely talented hypochondriac, Barry Mann. The ensemble are first rate, doubling up as the roster of hit acts who recorded King’s songs.
Fundamentally, Beautiful is the story of one woman quite literally finding her voice. After a career providing hits for some of the biggest artists of the 60s, King emerges from the shadows, uses the highs and lows of her life and finally claims the limelight for herself. Both empowering and entertaining, a ‘must-see’.
Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff
This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub