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Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – Leicester’s Curve

There’s a lot crammed into Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and yet there is more that could be told, given that the narrative ends with King’s Carnegie Hall concert in 1971, with no Jersey Boys style epilogue about how she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – something that has now happened twice, once as a songwriter, in a 1990 joint award with Gerry Goffin, and as a singer (or, as the Hall of Fame has it, ‘performer’) in 2021. But to highlight everything that went on in King’s life would take two or possibly three shows. As it is, there are times when it feels as though all King (Molly-Grace Cutler) and Goffin (Tom Milner) are doing is writing songs whenever they can. This doesn’t make for the most riveting storyline, but it reflected the cutthroat music industry, with chart music producer Donnie Kirshner (Garry Robson) always and forever looking for the next hit. Mind you, Kirshner is more of a friendly and respected father figure rather than a tyrant, which makes things significantly more pleasant.

(L-R) Louise Francis (Janelle), Molly-Grace Cutler (Carole King) and Tom Milner (Gerry Goffin) - Photography by Ellie Kurttz.
(L-R) Louise Francis (Janelle), Molly-Grace Cutler (Carole King) and Tom Milner (Gerry Goffin) – Photography by Ellie Kurttz.

Both a friendship and a rivalry are established between King and Goffin and Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies) and Barry Mann (Jos Slovick, whose dry humour approach to the character had me in stitches) – the respective back catalogues are impressive to say the least. The warning signs are as unsubtle as they could possibly be as soon as Goffin puts career ambitions before family life – something eventually had to give, but even though the resulting heartache comes yet more songs, in particular (as the musical would have it), ‘It’s Too Late’: “But it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late / Though we really did try to make it / Somethin’ inside has died / And I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it”.

One wonders how authentic some of the musical numbers come across with sporadic riffing and dance moves which aren’t quite in keeping with how these songs were performed in the 1960s. These are, however, negligible points in a production that otherwise is ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ (sorry). There’s plenty of actor-musicianship to enjoy, which showcases the cast’s ‘quadruple threat’ talents – acting, dancing, singing and playing instruments. Admittedly, it’s a little odd seeing Weil and Mann express envy at the quality of a King and Goffin number, only for them to instantaneously play the tune in question. But it’s never difficult to work out what’s ‘really’ going on, and I found it fascinating to discover (or, rather, rediscover, having seen the 2015 West End production) the backstory to how songs like ‘Up on the Roof’ and ‘The Locomotion’ ended up in the charts.

Cutler is so pitch-perfect that you’d be forgiven for thinking while watching the show, that it really was Carole King on stage (it’s unlikely to happen, but I would buy a copy of a cast recording if this production were given permission to record one). There are, delightfully, no weak links to report amongst the rest of the hard-working cast. The sound design (Tom Marshall) is sophisticated and intelligent, adept at providing the right feel of each setting, whether it is a recording studio, live music venue or front room. Everything was crystal clear, and nothing was ever unbearably loud or even a tad too quiet.

In some ways, it’s the ultimate realisation of the American Dream – King and Goffin started out with day jobs, writing and composing in the evening, until their success allowed them to concentrate on their music full time. A fascinating insight into one of the most successful female songwriters in living memory, the show also leaves its audiences with a bunch of memorable tunes to hum on the way home. Beautiful by name, beautiful by nature.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Based on the story of Carole King’s remarkable rise from singer/songwriter to chart-topping music legend, this production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical will take audiences back to the heart of King’s landmark 1971 album ‘Tapestry’.

Featuring countless classics such as You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, Take Good Care of my Baby, You’ve Got a Friend, Up on the Roof, Locomotion and You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical is written by Douglas McGrath, with songs by Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Book by Douglas McGrath
Words & Music by Gerry Coffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Music by arrangement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing

After its run in Leicester, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical will tour to Theatre Royal Bath 17 – 26 March, Theatre Royal Brighton 29 March – 2 April, Festival Theatre Edinburgh 5 – 9 April, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 12 – 16 April, Newcastle Theatre Royal 19 – 23 April, Orchard Theatre Dartford 26 – 30 April, Malvern Theatres 3 -7 May, Cambridge Arts Theatre 10 – 21 May and New Theatre, Cardiff 24 – 28 May.

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