[Image description: Four and a half stars.]
Location: Liverpool Empire
When it comes to music my taste is firmly in the past. I grew up listening to Motown and Soul on long car journies and Rock and Roll pantos. So when I first heard about Beautiful The Carole King Musical it automatically went onto my want to see list, however, I knew that it would probably be a while until I actually could get to see it so I tried to put it out of my mind. Until recently that is when I learnt that it was embarking on it’s first UK and Ireland tour and that the soundtrack included two of my favourite songs Walking in the Rain and You’ve got a Friend I simply couldn’t wait any longer. I HAD TO SEE IT!
Beautiful follows King’s life and career from selling her first song It might as well rain until September to music impresario Donnie Kirshner and meeting her husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin who together dominated the charts with their catchy songs, which make up most of the soundtrack for the first act. Alongside some of the hits from songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil who worked alongside King and Goffin at 1650 Broadway. The soundtrack is toe-tappingly familiar to audience members of all ages and has the power to invoke many memories. As each song begins it’s like you can hear the audience’s collective cognition go “ah I remember this one.”
© Access Theatre [Image description: standing promotional poster for Beautiful the Carole King musical which is written in black font. Above the text is a photo of the ensemble cast as their characters and above them a larger image of the actress playing Carole King singing into a mic stand, wearing a blue and white circular patterned dress]
The second act takes a darker turn as it shows Gerry’s continuing battle with his mental health and infidelity, resulting in Carole finally seeking a divorce. Act two also shows Carole gaining her independence as she moves to LA and starts to perform her own work. Becoming well-known and hugely successful in her own right. It certainly had me shouting (internally) “heck yeah, girl power, Carole, you goddess of rock and roll!”
As I mentioned, I was hugely excited to see this show and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s now firmly one of my favourite musicals and I can see me seeing it many more times in future. It reminded me of another of my favourite musicals Leader of the Pack, which follows the life and music of Ellie Greenwich and Barry Goff another prolific songwriting duo of that era. Leigh Lothian who on this occasion was playing Carole King was perfect in the role, with her amazing voice with its country inflexions to really drawing the audience into King’s story. Kane Oliver Parry’s portrayal of Gerry was pitch perfect with his intensity and the contrast between being loveable and not so loveable. Whilst Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves as Weil and Mann provided levity and humour to contrast the intensity of King and Goffin’s relationship.
A big shout- out has to go to the ensemble who excellently bring some of the famous singers/ bands of the era to life on stage, such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, Neil Sedaka and The Righteous Brothers. Helped by the direction of Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince.
The other thing that really caught my attention and pleased my stage manager heart was the piano which looked as though it was moving all by itself. This made for some fun scene changes. Taking us from office spaces to home settings, tv and music studios to even a cabin in Vermont with snow falling outside, with clever set design by Derek McLane. Speaking of scene changes, what the heck was going on in the stage left wing? I could regularly see the tabs moving and props/ furniture being moved, which became quite distracting.
I would thoroughly recommend this musical to anyone that loves King and Goffin and Mann and Weil’s music or King as an artist in her own right. Or just for anyone that loves musical theatre in general. It’s full of great songs, humour, stunning costumes and sets and lots of girl power. It’s quite simply beautiful.
As I mentioned earlier the show does contain some distressing scenes regarding Gerry’s mental health, so that’s worth bearing in mind for potential audiences who may want to protect themselves from such themes.
You can find out where Beautiful is touring next at www.beautifulmusical.co.uk/
I’m off now to listen to the soundtrack and the Tapestry album ten million more times.