Reviewed by Matt Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A few years back the BBC ran a story stating you that you were never more than 6ft away from a rat at any one time, whilst this story isn’t factually correct I’m going to go one better and state that at any one time you’re never more than 6ft away from a Carole King song, such is the length and breadth of her work some of which is showcased in the fabulously uplifting Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Written by Hollywood screenwriter Douglas McGrath, Beautiful charts the journey of child genius Carol Klien, a brilliant piano player and composer living with her mum in Brooklyn. At 16, Klein, sells her first song to Don Kirshner’s Dimension Records, changes her name to Carole King and so begins the journey of one the most important singer/songwriters of the 20th century.
The main focus of Beautiful is on King’s career pre-Tapestry, her 1971, seminal, record breaking album, still regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. What we get is an overview of King’s relationship with her writing partner, and later husband Gerry Goffin and how their collaboration that produced some of the finest and most remarkable pop songs of the last century, which include, Take Good Care of My Baby, The Locomotion, and Up on the Roof, all of which feature in the show.
A friendly rivalry with fellow Dimension writing team, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, sees King and Goffin’s work go from strength to strength. However, with success comes pressure which begins to take its toll on their marriage. Goffin’s infidelities and battle with mental health sets King on a different trajectory, that of a solo performer, finally having the courage to perform her own songs.
Molly-Grace Culter is simply sublime as King, a performance filled with warmth, humour and passion. Instantly likeable throughout, it’s a fully rounded, at times understated turn. Her vocals throughout are tremendous, standout moments being It’s Too Late making the hairs on my arm stand on end. Whilst (You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman) brings the house down.
Tom Milner is in fine form Gerry Goffin, very early in proceedings Milner plants the seeds that Goffin will become the nearest we have to a villain of the story. His intensity matches his equally impressive vocals. Towards the end of performance, his reappearance in one scene rather comically led to uncomfortable mutterings in the audience, a bit like a Coronation Street ‘baddie’ nipping into a packed Rovers Return for a pint.
An unexpected aspect of Beautiful is that not only does it showcase the work of King and Goffin but also that of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil played here by Jos Slovick and Seren Sandham-Davies. Slovick is very much the light relief of the show as the super talented but hypochondriac Mann, whilst Davies gives a bright, breezy radiant turn as Weil. The relationship and rivalry between the two couples is the undoubted highlight for me and provides a great excuse to feature some great Mann/Weil compositions which include On Broadway and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.
What does let Beautiful down a little is its storytelling, sometimes it tries to cram too many songs in at the detriment of story, telling I feel Goffin’s battle with mental illness could have been explored more. Acts 1 at times seem a little too frenetic, whilst the final act is given more time to breathe leading to an absolutely stunning, joyous sequence with King’s homecoming show Carnegie Hall.
Director Nikolai Foster, has pulled off a masterstroke in having the entire cast sing and play their musical throughout the production. The cast works incredibly hard throughout with some tremendous players showcased throughout. This fits perfectly with Frankie Bradshaw’s recording studio set design. Throughout you’ll see a song start out in its striped back purest form eventually more cast members will join in adding further instrumentation similar to that of a jam session, it gives the songs an organic quality as we watch them grow and develop to the hits many of us know and love today.
This is a well-crafted, heartfelt and thoroughly entertaining night at the theatre. It’s a shining example of timeless songs performed by a talented ensemble cast on top of their game… go see it before it’s too late!
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 15th October, tickets available here.