BWW Review: BEAUTIFUL THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL, New Wimbledon Theatre
For those not around in 1971, it's easy to be ignorant of the huge impact that Carole King's seminal album, Tapestry, had at the time. Beautiful The Carole King Musical opens with King's concert at Carnegie Hall to celebrate the amazing success of that album. It then quickly flashes back to a 16 year old Carole about to sell her first song. What follows is the incredible story of her marriage, motherhood and stellar song writing partnership with her husband Gerry Goffin.
Among the fun and excitement of their partnership is the friendly rivalry between the couple and fellow song writers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, who wrote The Righteous Brothers' hit "You've Lost That Lovin Feelin", as well as tracks for Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley and Lionel Richie to name a few.
There is also depth and humanity to the story, with King's own self doubt and Goffin's chronic infidelity threatening to destabilise King's future. At the heart of this production is the incredible talent of King, but also her own private battle to recognise it herself.
Jukebox musicals can be wonderfully uplifting affairs, or can be formulaic and bland, with songs shoehorned in at awkward moments. This does not happen here; the plot develops naturally, with the audience witnessing the songs being written and rehearsed around a piano, rather than assigned to a particular event because the lyrics fit.
King and Goffin created some of the best-known songs of the 1960s, such as "Will you Still Love Me Tomorrow", "The Locomotion" and "Up On The Roof". With slick set changes and clever costume transformations, the songs often get a sprinkle of star dust as they are performed by an enthusiastic ensemble cast, who bring the Drifters, the Shirelles and the Righteous Brothers to life. Special mention must go to Ben Morris, who brings a brilliantly ironic, cruise-ship quality to the crooning of Neil Sedaka.
Josh Prince's choreography is very well designed, but not always performed with total precision. A few of the ensemble also seem to struggle with the energy of the dancing and appear out of breath.
As Carole King herself, Bronté Barbé does not reflect the exact timbre of King's voice. However, as a finalist on Andrew Lloyd Webber's search for a Dorothy in Over The Rainbow, she proved she had a powerful and expressive voice, with enough soul to carry the role well. Her rendition of "Natural Woman" is a show highlight, showcasing the nuance and rawness in her voice.
She also has a great connection with the audience, sweeping them along in King's story with all its emotions, successes and failures. She projects a very honest vulnerability of a woman so unsure of her her own talents.
Barbé and Kane Oliver Parry, who plays Gerry Goffin, have good chemistry. Parry is both charming and deceptive as the crooner who serenades his wife at every opportunity and then continuously cheats on her as he struggles with his own mental health demons.
Beautiful avoids becoming a cliched list of hits though the successful portrayal of the woman at its heart. There is a lot to love about this production that is a more understated affair than most jukebox musicals. With a combination of wonderful tracks, great singing and slick staging, at its heart it is refreshingly honest story of how a supremely talented woman finally believed in herself.
Photo Credit: Craig Sugden