There was a great feeling of excitement in the theatre as Carole King (Katie Brayben) appeared on the stage behind a piano with a simple purple back drop and lighting. This simplicity seemed to be symbolic and once I watched the show I realised just why.
We are introduced to Carole’s single mother (Glynis Barber), who straight away appears to be musical, as she is sitting at the piano playing a short tune. It also becomes apparent she is quite the traditionalist when she says to the teenage Carole ‘I’d be so proud if you played Mozart again’. This can be much appreciated as a joke as the audience know this definitely wasn’t going to happen! Carole King, like any other teenager, is wide eyed and has a dream to be a successful songwriter.
The scenery of the music-factory Brill Building was charismatic, of what dreams are made and soon where Carole King would be making her dreams come true, along with the equally dreamy lyricist Gerry Goffin (Alan Morrisey), who would hastily become her husband and song writing partner. Morrisey played the young Goffin as self assured almost aloof. The reasons for this becoming more apparent throughout the show when we see the mental health issues that Goffin would suffer, that showed a more intense and exposed side to him.
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s relationship was a very affectionate but still playful one that was acted by Ian McIntosh and Lorna Want just perfectly, as a song writing couple who can’t imagine life without each other. Their relationship was contrast to the crumbling relationship of their two best friends Carole and Gerry due to the latter‘s womanising ways. Along with Producer Don Kirshner (Gary Trainor) these three characters are the backbone to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Aldwych Theatre.
The sheer volume of the Goffin-King songbook is phenomenal with songs such as ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘Take Good Care Of My Baby’. These are songs that are so familiar to so many different generations in the present day as well as epitomizing the 1960’s.
The ensemble performers as the artists who sung the writing duo’s music were phenomenal and an important component of the first act, with The Drifters providing phenomenal performances - most notably the Mann-Weil song ‘On Broadway’ with very impressive vocals.
When she moves to LA, we see Carole King coming in to her own with her music rather than her personal life. King begins performing and recording her own songs such as ’(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman’, rather than writing for other artists, and a new chapter opens for her. As an audience we don’t perhaps get to see inside the soul and evolution of King herself, but instead we see it through her music, partly because of her humble personality, but with such great music this counts for a lot.
Katie Brayben is exquisite in the role of Carole King providing not only flawless piano accompaniment but seamless vocals and acting too. The feeling of a reluctant song writing legend in King who wanted the music to do the talking, makes this show refreshing. With a fantastic back catalogue of songs and stellar performances from the whole cast I can see Beautiful having a long run ahead of it.
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