Newcomer Katie Brayben gives a sensational performance in the latest jukebox musical to open in the West End. The young performer is confident and commanding in her role as Carole King, the American singer-songwriter whose breakthrough album Tapesty remained in the US charts for over 6 years.
Beautiful The Carole King Musical is packed full of familiar tunes. Not just songs by King and her husband Gerry Goffin, but also those of the rival song writing duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. This is overwhelming; the songwriting duo of King and Goffin have more than enough memorable hits to sustain a full length musical and the additional songs make the evening feel more like a night at a concert than the Aldwych Theatre. Perhaps without the addition of the Mann/Weil back catalogue, Douglas McGrath’s witty but brief book might have been able to delve more into the later life of America’s most successful female singer songwriter.
The musical begins in 1971 as Carole King takes to the stage at Carnegie Hall. How did I get here? she muses. Over the following 150 minutes, we find out.
Directed by Marc Bruni, this is a slick, successful production with a cast of 26 and a 12 strong live orchestra led by Matt Smith. Derek McLane’s impressive set design of metal girders and staircases is influenced by 16-year-old Carole’s assertion that the offices of US music publisher and producer Donnie Kirshner are a song factory. This contrasts strongly with the shabby home of Carole and her mother and later the suburban marital home of King and her husband Gerry. It is easy to understand the claustrophobia Gerry feels as the story develops; he is writing rock and roll songs whilst living a conventional, middle-class life. He longs to escape to a nightclub.
Whilst the musical is undeniably a show piece for the soaring, effortless voice of Brayben, the supporting group of four also give faultless performances. Alan Morrissey’s Gerry Goffin was so convincingly spineless and listless that parts of the audience audibly murmured disparagingly when he reappeared on stage towards the end of the show. And Ian McIntosh and Lorna Want excel as the edgy and neurotic Barry Mann and his pushy and determined partner Cynthia Weil.
The musical follows the tale of Carole from earnest schoolgirl through a successful songwriting partnership with Goffin to starting a new career as a solo singer-songwriter. Subtle costume design by Alejo Vietti signals the passing of time from prissy 1958 to swinging 1971. The musical starts and ends in the same place – the Carnegie Hall in 1971. But what happened next? The rousing final number Beautiful is from King’s 1971 Tapestry album. Fewer songs and more book would surely have had this moment at the end of Act 1. As the lights dim and the cast take their bow, it feels like we were denied a third act.
Review by Laura-Jane Foley
Carole King, the chart-topping music legend, was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. She fought her way into the record industry as a teenager and sold her first hit, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, when she was just seventeen. By the time she was twenty she was writing number ones for the biggest acts in rock ‘n’ roll, including The Drifters, The Shirelles, Aretha Franklin and The Monkees. But her greatest challenge was to find her own voice and finally step into the spotlight.
Beautiful is the untold story of Carole King’s journey from schoolgirl to superstar; from her relationship with husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, their close friendship and playful rivalry with fellow songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, to her remarkable rise to stardom. Along the way, she became one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history, and wrote the soundtrack to a generation.
Evenings: Monday – Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday matinees 2.30pm
Thursday 10th September 2015