Book: Douglas McGrath
Music and Lyrics: Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Director: Marc Bruni
Reviewer: Clare White
It’s fair to say that Carole King is responsible for some of the most memorable songs in musical history. Since the 1960s, over 400 of her compositions have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles. Beautiful is the story of the celebrated singer/songwriter, who wrote her first number one hit, Will You Love Me Tomorrow aged just 18 years old.
Opening with King’s iconic 1971 Carnegie Hall concert, which followed the release of her seminal album Tapestry, it’s clear that the prolific songwriter can’t quite believe how she got there. King performs So Far Away to the sell-out audience, and then suddenly, the story rewinds 14 years to when an excitable, ambitious and slightly awkward teenage Carole Klein was living with her mum and trying to skip college to sell her music to a record company.
Aged 17, King meets Gerry Goffin, her future songwriting partner and first husband. Together the pair creates magic. When King falls pregnant, they struggle to juggle family life with the pressures of their increasing success. The duo writes hit after hit for popular artists of the time, including Up on the Roof (The Drifters) Take Good Care Of My Baby (Bobby Vee) and The Loco-motion (Little Eva).
Under the direction of Marc Bruni, Douglas McGrath’s narrative is sweet and funny, while also sensitively dealing with the challenges King experiences leading up to the creation of Tapestry. No doubt the story has some added dramatic gloss, but there is a refreshing truthfulness to this bio-jukebox musical. King’s journey neatly links with her remarkable back catalogue, her story mirroring the realism and truth in her lyrics and melodies.
A fun competitive dynamic with songwriting rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, who themselves were responsible for the hits You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, gives the added bonus of humorous interactions and allows for the inclusion of even more superb sixties standards.
With the highs, come the lows, and things take a turn when Goffin’s infidelity is revealed and he spirals into depression. While King’s hurt is evident, it doesn’t feel fully explored, and she frustratingly steps aside as her husband continues his affair. During this time, however, she develops her own voice away from their partnership. When asked why she doesn’t perform herself, she replies, ‘I’m just a normal person, who wants to hear a normal person sing? I just write the songs.’ It’s a simple but empowering turning point which leads to King stepping into the spotlight and producing her award-winning Tapestry album.
Leading lady Bronté Barbé is brilliant as King. She has flawless soulful vocals and perfectly captures her unassuming character, vulnerability and determination. She has great chemistry with Kane Oliver Parry, who plays Goffin and who does a fine job of sympathetically portraying a man’s struggle with mental health. Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves are warm and witty as fellow songwriting duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.
Cameos of The Drifters, The Shirelles and other musical acts from the 1960s, courtesy of the talented ensemble, are strong and vibrant. There is also a fun appearance from King’s high school sweetheart, one Neil Sedaka, who penned the song Oh! Carol about her.
The music is the real star of the show. With a score including classics like One Fine Day, You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman) and You’ve Got A Friend, Beautiful is a captivating and endearing story of an ordinary woman’s extraordinary talent and how she carved her place in music history.
Runs Until 16 June 2018 | Image: Contributed