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Review of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical at New Wimbledon Theatre

BEAUTIFUL. Bronte Barbe 'Carole King'. Photo by Craig Sugden
BEAUTIFUL. Bronte Barbe ‘Carole King’. Photo by Craig Sugden

You’d have to have been living under a rock to not know of Carole King; and even if you don’t know her by name, you would surely know many of her songs if you heard them. So it’s hardly surprising that in 2014 she found herself the subject of a Broadway musical that subsequently transferred to the West End and is now bringing joy to audiences across the UK.

Beautiful chronicles the rise of Carole King from a small-time Brooklyn girl with big dreams to one of the twentieth century’s most prolific singer-songwriters. Although her rise to the top is a fascinating story, Beautiful is as much about the people she chose to surround herself with as it is the woman herself. Fellow songwriting duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann play a large role in the show, sharing in commercial successes and witnessing the decline of King’s first marriage to songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin. This provides a larger sense of perspective throughout the show and helps to set it apart from less successful biographical musicals which often have tunnel vision on their subject.

Act one is dominated by the writing of songs and the subsequent performances by the artists that took them on. This is a well-trodden path for this genre and offers nothing original, surprising or inspiring; however, Beautiful somehow manages to take this formula and execute it with an ease and class that almost makes you forget just how formulaic it is. This is almost certainly down to the expanse and variation of King’s back-catalogue and the clever move to also include other artists’ songs from the period. The mostly uneventful first half is also elevated by Amy Ellen Richardson’s sharp portrayal of Cynthia Weil, who plays the part with zingy, upbeat energy providing a much-needed change of gear throughout.

The lesser-known personal story of Carole and Gerry’s rocky marriage proves much more interesting than King’s songwriting days and is the focus of the latter half of the show. This is where Beautiful really finds its feet and separates itself from other jukebox musicals. With such an array of fantastic songs to work with, there’s always the perfect tune to sum up the moment and hit all the emotional notes of such a heartfelt story. Bronté Barbé triumphs in the lead role, which is no mean feat when you consider the legend she’s emanating. Kane Oliver Parry and Matthew Gonsalves, as Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann, are perfect accompaniments to the female leads and also show off their soaring vocal ranges and adept acting talents.

Beautiful’s design is functional but effective, made up of a few sliding screens and some LED-studded scaffolding which provides some much-needed levels. There are, of course, pianos that sweep from one side of the stage to the other and, much like the rest of the production, there’s an effortless flow in the scenic design.

The jukebox musical has become a staple of the modern theatrical landscape, often gaining commercial success and critical contempt. But every so often a show rises above the noise and presents itself with an integrity and grace that can’t be denied. Beautiful is such a show. A timeless story of empowerment, determination and one woman’s talent that will outlive us all.

4 stars

Review by Dan Reeves

Long before she was Carole King, the chart-topping music legend, she was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history.
Along the way, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation, with countless classics such as (You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman, Take Good Care of my Baby, You’ve Got a Friend, So Far Away, It Might As Well Rain Until September, Up on the Roof, Locomotion, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, On Broadway and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.

Tue 22 – Sat 26 – May 2018
New Wimbledon Theatre, Wimbledon


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