Edinburgh Playhouse – until 28 November 2017
Guest reviewer: Liv Ancell
Wasting no time in getting started, the Carole King musical opened with the protagonist (played by the talented Bronté Barbé) sitting behind a grand piano at the Carnegie Hall concert, a highlight of King’s solo singing career. During these first few moments of the show we see Carole at her pinnacle – a headline concert.
Some world-class singing, along with a quick comical address to the audience, and whoosh! The piano glides to the back of the stage, while the forefront is seamlessly transformed into a mid-century apartment in Brooklyn. In an astonishing demonstration of hurried backstage dressing, Carole emerges just moments later, transformed into the gawky 16-year old college student with big ambitions.
And so the show really begins, as we follow the peppy and promising teenager from the very beginnings of her musical ambitions. Throughout the show, we are to see several more versions of Carole. From naïve teenager to career-woman, mother, divorcée and reborn singer – Bronté’s unwavering Brooklyn accent and incredible acting talent carried the audience right the way through the character’s incredible journey.
From joy to dejection, every facet of emotion was expertly communicated by this veritable stage star; from gestures to posture and tone, the calibre of acting on show made the audience really get behind the character. When Carole suffered a set-back, the audience collectively mourned for her. When Carole rejoiced, the audience rejoiced. The connection between Bronté and the audience was pure and deep, emphasising the quality of talent possessed by the actress.
My favourite aspect of the show was the flashy transitions between song-writing and performance. Carole and her husband Gerry Goffin, who was her partner in a work sense, too had a believable on-stage chemistry. The very moment that our ingénues completed the writing of each song (her the melodies and him the words), the chosen artists suddenly appeared to perform Carole and Gerry’s works. These quick ‘cut-betweens’ intersected the story, providing moments of sheer joy, and often comedy, as the audience enjoyed upbeat, all-dancing, all-singing renditions by the likes of The Shirelles and The Drifters.
Carole and Jerry’s counterparts, songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Well – who were great friends of Carole and Jerry – are the subjects of a sideline love story. The ambitious go-getter Cynthia and hypochondriac musician Barry provide many moments of comedy, and are instantly likeable.
As Carole strikes out on her own in Act 2, the audience see even more of the endless talent possessed by this legendary artist. More confident, less naïve and wiser, the character doesn’t hold back and the real potential of her talent is unlocked. This show is a beautiful journey of talent and dreams, a journey who’s ending would not seem quite so special if the moments of sadness and despair had not appeared along the way.
A packed Edinburgh Playhouse rose to their feet to toast the young talents of the show. The main characters and the ensemble really seemed to understand the complexities of the relationships and the time period which the show spanned. The execution of this show was flawless; from staging to lighting, to the script and the arrangements.
I whole-heartedly recommend this show to anybody – even if the name Carole King is unknown to you prior to seeing the show, I can guarantee hits such as the Locomotion and Will You Love Me Tomorrow will jog your memory and give you a new found sense of appreciation of this song writing and singing legend.