Aldwych Theatre, London, booking until 29 October 2016
This review wasn’t going to be written. Why? Well as this was a revisit to a show which I’d previously seen earlier in its run, I thought I’d just sit back and enjoy. However it soon struck me that I was witnessing some really career defining performances. Having been extremely successful on Broadway, Beautiful tells the inspiring true story of Carole King’s remarkable rise to stardom. From being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Along the way, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation.
With countless classics such as ‘(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman’, ‘Take Good Care Of My Baby’, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, ‘So Far Away’, It Might As Well Rain Until September’, ‘Up On The Roof’, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and of course ‘The Locomotion’. The music composed by King and the lyrics penned by her husband Goffin takes us from early, happy creative times to relationship heartbreak, through to demonstrating mature strength and becoming one of the most successful female solo acts in popular music history.
Like many other very well-known shows it was the amount of songs that have been written by both King (Katie Brayben) and Goffin (Dylan Turner) and their competitive friends Weil (Lorna Want) and Mann (Ian McIntosh), that had taken me by surprise. The stage is set with a grand piano as a centrepiece for a performance by King at Carnegie Hall. As the lights dim Brayben takes to the piano, and we actually start at the end of her story, then regressing to her teenage years, seeing her dream of being a songwriter, instead of following her mother’s aspirations for her to be a teacher. Brayben is a phenomenal talent who seems born to play King. With a powerful voice and intuitive acting, her portrayal is sheer brilliance personified. Dylan Turner was our Gerry Goffin for the evening and demonstrated how wasted he can be as an understudy or in his usual cameo’s in the show. Turner captures the troubled genius element of Goffin’s personality and this is complimented by his lovely singing voice. I hope that as he is leaving shortly we will get an opportunity to see him play a lead role somewhere else very soon.
Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh as competitive songwriting sparring partners Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, were in my opinion outstandingly well cast and both shone in their roles. Want as a highly driven, focused Weil was very believable and McIntosh brought great characterisation to his role, as the hypochondriac but extremely talented Mann. In fact one of my favourite scenes of the show was “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” not only for the performance by McIntosh but for the fact that this was when you could really see the wheels coming off the hit making machine. All four of the leads and particularly Turner and Brayben acted tremendously well.
Kings divorcée mother was excellently portrayed by Glynis Barber who had great timing in the delivery of her lines, some of which not only resonated but were to great comic effect. Particularly the fact that she was just trying to protect her daughter from suffering the heartbreak, she had endured during her own marriage. The lines “is all I’m saying” brought amusement to some tough scenes. Producer Don Kirshner played by Gary Trainor worked well, illustrating how keeping the two couples both working whilst also having his and their best interests at heart. The ensemble were all strong but particular highlights for me were The Drifters – Oliver Lidert, Fela Lufadeju, Terel Nugent, and Jay Perry who splendidly encapsulated the feeling of the songs. As did Lucy St. Louis as Little Eva/Shirelle. The choreography was in keeping with the era and was delightfully executed, as were the many costumes and staging creating a visual spectacle.
Since the first time I saw the show, we’ve seen both award nominations and wins. As we approach cast change I can’t help but wonder, is it the amazing cast that makes this show, or the incredible soundtrack to a generation by King, that will mean the show continues its successful run? Whichever it is, this is a slick, professional and spectacular show. In regards to the cast who are leaving, I will watch with eagerness to see what follows for them. However the remaining cast, I know I will see again as this revisit will definitely not be my last!