Touring – reviewed at Regent Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent
The West End musical hit which regales the life story of the extraordinary singer songwriter Carole King is on UK tour and it’s as well received in the regional theatres as it was in the capital city.
The show begins at the end, Carnegie Hall, where Carole King (played by Bronté Barbé) has surprised herself with the ultimate success of her career up to that point. Then we turn back time as we’re transported back to the moment King’s songwriting talent was taken seriously.
‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ was the first song that King sold. She was only 16 years old and had skipped two grades in her education. Meanwhile, a fellow student by the name of Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry) catches her eye and it’s not long until she has writing partner and lover all in one package. Pregnancy and marriage follow suit and all very quickly with the young maestro still under the age of 20.
We’re also introduced to her mother Genie (Carol Royle) who has been attempting to steer her daughter away from a career in music and into a teaching role instead. We follow King’s path with her, from the fun she has with friends; fellow writers Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves) to heartbreak in her personal life while her professional life remains as successful as ever.
The journey to Carnegie Hall is peppered with hit songs, all of which I knew and tried hard not to sing along with. There were popular numbers from The Drifters and The Shirelles amongst others and members of the ensemble played these roles and mimicked the singers perfectly.
From “You Got a Friend” to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to “Natural Woman” – all the classics were performed against a versatile and stunningly bright set. I was drawn to the guitars adorning the backdrop and the enticing range of various lighting arrangements as we were taken back to bands of the 60’s and 70’s.
Bronte Barbe is a marvel as Carole King, she does her proud and her vocal tone is astronomical. I particularly engaged with the emotion she effortlessly fuelled each song with. Kane Oliver Parry is well cast as ‘bad boy’ with numerous unresolved mental health issues, Gerry Goffin. The chemistry with Barbe was palpable, and that was ‘felt’ from my seat in the rear stalls of a large auditorium. Carole Royle played Carole’s mother, Genie superbly – her comic timing was exceptional and there was great significance in her role. Amy Ellen Richardson captivated me as Cynthia Weil, from her stunning vocals to her infectious smile, another well cast ‘character’. Equally Matthew Gonsalves was impressive as hypochondriac, Barry Mann – bringing comedy, vulnerability and heart to the part.
Miss this show at your peril, the reason it was such a success in the West End couldn’t be clearer and I for one feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to have caught this show at one of my local theatres.