Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

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.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

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.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

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.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

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.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

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.

Annie

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

An Officer and a Gentleman

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

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Based on the 1982 Oscar-winning film and bursting with feel-good 80’s favourites including ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and of course the ultimate ear-worm from the original score ‘Up Where We Belong’, An Officer and a Gentleman marches into Manchester this week.

In true 80’s romantic fashion we have a troubled bad boy in need of taming and a feisty female determined to live life her way until of course romance comes calling, complicating everything. When Zack Mayo rocks up at military boot camp full of swagger, he doesn’t bank on falling for local factory girl Paula nor being put through his paces by drill Sergeant Foley who has had his fill off wannabee officers. The challenge is on; can this angst filled rebel make it as not only an officer but also a gentleman?

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Jonny Fines makes for a convincing Zack, with strong vocals and impressive acting skills he convinces as both the macho cadet and the dependable gentleman, he is playful and hugely likeable. Alongside Fines is an impressive Emma Williams as the strong-willed Paula Pokrifiki who knows her mind and is damned if she’s gonna be stuck in a factory for the rest of her life. Her vocals are sublime as she belts out hit after hit effortlessly. The chemistry between the two is strong and their interactions engaging and believable.

Equally convincing are Jessica Daley and James Darch as Lynette and Sid. Jessica’s stellar vocals and sassy attitude perfectly embody the role of Lynette while James Darch, covering the role of Sid at tonight’s press night, impresses with his strong vocals and powerful performance.

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Yes in parts it’s pretty cheesy with some songs feeling a little shoe-horned in but if you’re looking for an uplifting and entertaining night at the theatre then this certainly hits the spot. The immensely talented cast deliver some stunning performances and offer a fresh take on several 80’s classics via George Dyers inventive orchestration and arrangement, the use of Martika’s ‘Toy Soldiers’ is particularly poignant.

Douglas O’Connell’s video design is projected to great effect against Michael Taylor’s set which is beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell and gives a great sense of entrapment and the need to escape the humdrum of small town life.

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The script may be thin in parts and the action predictable but An Officer and a Gentleman does exactly what it says on the tin, it undoubtedly uplifts and entertains. This is feel-good jukebox fun, the fizz in the air as ‘that scene’ approaches is palpable ensuring the audience get exactly what they came for, escapism, incredible talent, a little bit of drama, a whole lot of romance.

An Officer and a Gentleman is on at the Opera House until Saturday 18th August tickets available here.

Interview | Douglas Day Stewart | An Officer and a Gentleman

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Based on the Oscar-winning film starring Richard Gere, An Officer and a Gentleman, the musical will sweep audiences off their feet when it heads to Manchester’s Opera House on 13th August.

Including the iconic hit song from the movie ‘Up Where We Belong’ along with 80’s classic after 80’s including ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, ‘Heart of Glass’, ‘Material Girl’, and ‘The Final Countdown’, An Officer and a Gentleman promises to be a thrilling night at the theatre as we follow the rough and ready Zack Mayo (Jonny Fines) as he learns the hard way the importance of how to be both an Officer and a Gentleman. Starring Olivier Award nominee Emma Williams, with direction by Nikolai Foster (Artistic Director Curve, Annie, Calamity Jane), An Officer and A Gentleman is not to be missed!

We had the pleasure of chatting to Douglas Day Stewart, the much celebrated co-writer of the book and original screenplay to hear a little more about what audiences can expect when the show arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on 13th August.

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Opening Night: Did you ever think back in 1982 you’d be revisiting the show 36 years later and presenting it as a musical?

Douglas Day Stewart: Absolutely not, I had no idea what an amazing journey writing this story would be for me, it’s been a blessing that just keeps on giving over the decades, it just gets better and better and better.

ON: We understand there are many autobiographical elements within the story, how do you decide what to put in and what to hold back?

DDS: I think my dream was to capture a moment in time that I survived. In 13 weeks it was a crucible of change for me. I went from being a boy to being a man. I went through all the experiences that I put into this and I tried to be true to everything. Of course in writing a story you take certain literary licences, I was not the rough edged intolerable guy that my character was but I had known that character being a naval officer. I had met people who were very much like Zack Mayo so I combined my own experiences with my knowledge of the rougher elements.

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ON: Richard Gere was so iconic as Zack Mayo how was it working with him?

DDS: It was wonderful; it was the perfect piece of casting. Initially I thought that John Travolta would have been my choice for Zack having worked with him on the television film The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and at the last moment he decided it wasn’t for him which was I think good for everyone because Richard was better than anyone could have hoped for….until now of course when we have a new Zack Mayo in the hugely talented Jonny Fines. The director Nikolai Foster knew Jonny so also knew what a gifted performer he was, when I see Jonny performing on stage I just can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

ON: How important was it for you to have Nikolai Foster as part of your creative team?

DDS: It was the key to the dream, getting Nikolai on board. He and I saw this story being converted to a stage musical in the exact same way. We both had the passion and vision to tell a simple working class story, something really true, genuine and honest.

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ON: Will we see many changes in the musical or have you stayed true to the original film?

DDS: We’re very truthful to the film. It has a wonderful history and we didn’t want to violate that for the audience but at the same time we wanted to appeal to a new audience, the story is so enduring though that I feel new audiences for example my daughter and her millennial friends will embrace it just as much as my generation did. What I think is the secret to the success of the film and will be to the musical is that the women and men love it equally. I’m seeing standing ovations every night and men in the audience are as emotionally caught up in the story as the women in the audience which is a very rare thing. It makes for a great date experience. It was written with a sense of honesty and also for men and women alike.

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ON: The songs chosen really revisit the sounds of the times how did you go about choosing which to include?

DDS: Well we of course had to have the iconic Up Where We Belong then everything else is really a building block up to that song and that moment. Every single song we picked is a song from the 80’s, a song that I personally love and that audiences also seem to really love, the soundtrack really is amazing. Nikolai must take credit too for picking many of the songs we ended up including, he had a real sense of what would work within the material. I pushed him to include one song that was not on anyone’s list but had been suggested by co-author Sharleen Cooper Cohen who did a lot of work on this project, that song was It’s A Man’s, Man’s Man’s World. The idea behind that was to bring out the women’s side of the story even more than in the original film. You’ll see in the show the women’s story is equally as important as the men going through their military training. It was important to do this in a way which felt authentic and empowering.

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ON: How does it feel to have created something so iconic?

DDS: It’s so gratifying, I can’t tell you the number of times people have come up to me and said they’d asked their wife to marry them after watching the movie, people have shown me pictures from weddings where they were married wearing the officers suits, they’ve danced to Up Where We Belong at their weddings it’s really incredible. We hit an amazing note with the movie that I really hope we achieve with the musical too; people saw the movie and believed in love again. It’s absolutely time to start believing in love again. Standing ovations every night is more than I could ever have wished for and I hear Manchester audiences as some of the best!

You can catch An Officer and a Gentleman at Manchester Opera House from Monday 13th August until Saturday 18th tickets available here.