BEAUTIFUL: The Carole King Musical
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 12th June, 2018
This biographical musical, telling of the rise to prominence of songwriter Carole King, feels different from other shows of its type. Yes, it’s a rags-to-riches tale but the young King seems to have had a smooth ride to the top, from 1950s Brooklyn to 1970s Los Angeles. Pressure from her mother to give up ‘sawng-wriding’ and become a teacher is easily overcome. Resistance within the industry is deftly swept aside. She sells her first hit, meets a handsome chap, forms a writing partnership with him, becomes his wife, mother to his daughters… It’s almost the interval when the first cloud appears, and dramatic tension at last enters the piece. The second act is rife with marital stress, but King comes through, using the break-up of her marriage to lyricist Gerry Goffin as the basis for material for her phenomenal album, Tapestry.
As King, Bronté Barbé is magnificent, delivering the self-deprecating Jewish humour along with the goods when it comes to singing à la King, that distinctive reedy voice combining vulnerability with power. At this performance, Grant McConvey steps up as the charming but troubled Gerry Goffin and there is some excellent character work from Carol Royle as Carole’s mum. Amy Ellen Richardson is also fabulous as Cynthia Weil, Carole’s best friend and songwriting rival, while Matthew Gonsalves’s Barry Mann is humorously hypochondriac and wildly talented.
The hits keep coming – it’s a real nostalgia fest of songs that were old when I was a nipper, but somehow they have entered my consciousness. Up On The Roof, Some Kind of Wonderful, Will You Love Me Tomorrow… These are performed by members of the ensemble as ‘The Drifters’ and ‘The Shirelles’, recreating the authentic sound of those iconic acts, complete with doo-wop choreography, but it’s Little Eva (Esme Laudat) and The Locomotion that really raises the roof. The remarkable breadth of King’s influence on popular music emerges, all the more astonishing for the era when ‘women didn’t write music’.
Beautiful is a fantastic piece of entertainment, slick and classy, heart-warming – and funny, due to a wryly witty book by Douglas McGrath. You don’t have to be a Carole King aficionado to enjoy it, but by the end, you will be.