I felt extremely privileged to be given the opportunity to see this show in its official opening weeks thanks to London Theatre Direct.
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', and of course 'Locomotion', this musical, newly at home in the Aldwych Theatre not only tells the story of Carole King, but also how in the early 1960's people began to find their voices and create their own songs. The music composed by King and the lyrics penned by her husband take us from early, happy creative times to relationship heartbeak 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 and Goffin and their competitive friends Weil and Mann, that had taken me by surprise.
The Aldwych is a beautiful theatre and has a lovely intimate feel to it. The stage is well set with a grand piano as centre piece and as the lights dim Katie Brayben as Carole King takes to the piano chair.
The story starts with the end: Carole King's performance at Carnegie Hall. Then we journey back to her teenage years, dreaming of being a songwriter instead of following her mother's aspirations for her to be a teacher.
Katie Brayben is a phenomenal new talent who seems born to play King. With a powerful voice and acting ability it is sheer brilliance personified. Alan Morrissey as Gerry Goffin has a divine singing voice and although disliking the womanising character you can't help also seeing that he despised himself as well. Morrissey captures the troubled genius perfectly.
Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh as competitive songwriting sparring partners Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann were in my opinion truly perfectly cast and both shone in their parts. Lorna as a highly driven, focused Cynthia was very believable and Ian brought great characterisation to his role as the hypochondriac but extremely talented Barry.
The feistiness of Carole King's divorcee mother was excellently portrayed by Glynis Barber and she had great timing in her delivery of lines, some of which not only resonated but were to great comic effect.
The ensemble were all strong but particular highlights for me were The Drifters - Oliver Lidert, Fela Lufadeju, Terel Nugent, and Jay Perry who splendidly captured the era. Joanna Woodward as Betty and Lucy St. Louis as Little Eva/Shirelle were both great additions to the cast. I also really enjoyed Dylan Turner in his multiple roles.
The choreography was in keeping with the time and was a delight, as were the many costumes. Lighting, staging and set design vividly colourful all complimented the production and were a triumph in creating a visual spectacle. The transition of the scene changes were both smooth and effortless. This show is incredibly slick in its professionalism.
I came out of the show smiling and several days later I'm still singing the songs, particularly 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' which we all know and love from when The Monkees performed it. This alone has got to demonstrate what a great show this is.
As for Katie Brayben, well I think this lady is destined for a very long career in the theatre. Who knows where she'll end up but lets hope we get to keep her in the West End for a few years yet!
Beautiful the Carole King Musical Review by Caroline Hanks-Farmer