Touring – reviewed at Birmingham Hippodrome
Guest reviewer: Emma Millward
Beautiful charts the early years of Carole King from a 16 year old girl writing her first hit single, to her first solo concert in front of an audience at Carnegie Hall in June 1971. King would go on to become the most successful female American songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century, writing or co-writing 118 hit songs, 61 of which charted in the UK.
We are introduced to a young Carole (Molly-Grace Cutler) who loves to play piano and write her own songs, although her Mother Genie Klein (Claire Greenaway) wants her to become a music teacher (“Girls don’t write music, they teach it!”).
She heads off to 1650 Broadway to meet Donnie Kirshner (Garry Robson), a record producer, to play him her song ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’. Donnie likes her despite her shy demeanour and asks her to write more songs. Later at college King meets Gerry Goffin (Tom Milner) and they start to write songs together and ultimately fall in love and quickly marry after King falls pregnant. The show depicts the ups and downs of their marriage and Gerry’s many infidelities.
Working alongside Goffin and King are Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies) and Barry Mann (Jos Slovick) as rival songwriters. They wrote such hits as ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ and ‘On Broadway’, made famous by the Drifters and performed perfectly in the show. The foursome became great friends and the chemistry between them is obvious onstage.
The stand out feature of the show for me was the fact that all the actors sing and play the music live on the stage. Various instruments are hung up on walls for the characters to pick up and play. Most of the show takes place on a recording studio set that adds to the atmosphere of the music as the characters are seen recording their various demos of songs. The wings of the stage are quite open and the backstage crew moving about could potentially be distracting to the audience, but I am always fascinated by what happens backstage, so I enjoyed this aspect of the set design.
The cast works really well together and are all talented musicians as well as actors. Cutler especially stands out as King. Her vocals are perfect, especially during songs like ‘One Fine Day’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, both were big songs that wowed the audience. Dan de Cruz also caught the eye as onstage musical director as well as playing an extra cheeky version of Bobby Hatfield from the Righteous Brothers.
Whether you are a massive Carole King fan or not, there is something for everyone in this show, and you may actually find yourself surprised by just how many songs Carole King was responsible for writing. It’s definitely not ‘Too Late’ to book your tickets for an absolutely ‘Beautiful’ night out.
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