Beautiful – Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Book: Douglas McGrath

Music and Lyrics: Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

Director: Nikolai Foster

The early 1970s had no self-respecting women’s Halls of Residence not embracing the zeitgeist of an emerging female singer/songwriter renaissance without listening on repeat-play both Carly Simon’s No Secrets and Carole King’s Tapestry. The more esoterically minded found resonance with Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Meanwhile, across in male dorms, a more dispiriting tableau emerges wherein walls are postered with the ubiquitous tennis girl’s bottom and millionaire-in-waiting, Roger Daltrey, in full suede tassel swing at Woodstock.

From the timeless, perfect pop cadences of The Locomotion to soul diva divine Natural Born Woman, Carole King’s genius for poking pan-generational hearts and minds with a rhythm-stick wrapped in magic marks the two-hour passage on this stage tonight. The Beautiful title is informed by the life-affirming eponymous track from said Tapestry‘..where tears are just a lullaby/maybe love can end the madness/… you’re as beautiful as you feel’. King’s intensely, uniquely, autobiographical, heart-mugging sincerity opus described by James Taylor as – ‘…songs for any occasion…built from the ground up with a simple, elegant architecture.’

Set principally in the studios of The Brill Building on Broadway – aka ‘The Hits Factory’ Beautiful charts a chronological narrative arc from King’s childhood precocity for nailing a melody to her eventual mantelpiece groaning weight of awards and lifetime achievement accolades. Molly-Grace Cutler’s immersion into the Carole King persona: teenage prodigy, possessed by melodies plucked from the rarefied air where only geniuses can breathe, is somewhat astonishing. The ingenue suggestion of Pre-Raphaelite red tresses, the ludicrous transition from piano-disciplined Mozart etudes to free-basing embryonic, melodic riffs for It Might As Well Rain Until September all taken in her stride. Likewise, the multi-instrumental ensemble cast employs a dynamic of interchangeable spontaneity and flair last seen at The Last Supper when the bill was presented.

Though King is the protagonist, her collaboration with lyricist/husband, Tom Milner’s muse-blessed, short-fused, adulterous, Gerry Goffin, lends further depth and expositional context. Sparring partners, hit-makers dynamic duo, Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies’ debut entrance a super-steroids avalanche not seen since Donald O’Connor’s Make ’em Laugh from Singing In The Rain) and rosy-cheeked Barry Mann (Jos Slovick) hypochondriac in residence, demonstrate their prodigious, inventive contribution to the Brill Building canon of pop classics, their On Broadway sublimely complementing King/Goffin’s Up On The Roof.

The set-piece routines, The Shirelles/Drifters/Righteous Brothers, are a choreographed and costume-riotous delight, and if they seem a tad cheesy, all the more to treasure: they were more innocent times notwithstanding a palliative to the Cold War paranoia consuming America. Though things begin to get a bit weird when (‘I don’t do songs for Sit-Coms!’) Goffin throws a curve-ball with Pleasant Valley Sunday, considered a throwaway for some scruffy, cheeky guys called The Monkees. As for the gauche babysitter turns Cinderella magically into Little Eva on roller-skates doing The Locomotion in neon-loud, Pop Art perfect micro-dress, the arrival of perfect three-minute effervescent, ephemera is the charts-trembling radio station new sensation. Meanwhile, some young lads in Liverpool are beginning to have ideas of their own. A show steeped in a bubbling crucible of teenage invention, genre-defining pop culture paradigm revolution. Does what it says on the label.

Runs Until 3 September 2022 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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