MusicalNorth WestReview

Beautiful – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Reviewer: Anne Pritchard

Book: Douglas McGrath.

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

Director: Mark Bruni

The Carole King hit ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ aptly describes this musical production. The success of the show heavily depends on the acting and particularly the vocal talent of leading lady, Molly-Grace Cutler who fills the role perfectly. She has mastered the heavy Brooklyn accent of King and the inflection in her voice when singing.

Beautiful charts Carole’s musical journey from a gangly teenager living in the Bronx who excels at piano playing to becoming a major star who goes on to sell out Carnegie Hall, where the show begins and ends after her phenomenally successful 1971 album, Tapestry. Initially, it focuses on her songwriting partnership with her husband, Gerry Goffin, his philandering ways and the eventual breakdown of her marriage to him.

Molly-Grace Cutler is excellent as King, she brings an incredible amount of passion and emotion to the role and a genuine warmth as she captures not only King’s voice but her soul as well. She makes King so likable and convincing that her rendition of ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ will have brought a tear to the eyes of those watching. The show conveys how King’s music reflects her life experiences and makes it easy to empathise with her situation and the decisions she makes along the way. Several songs are cleverly used to reflect King’s changing circumstances; ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ marks the discovery that she’s pregnant and ‘Up on the Roof’ refers to Goffin’s unsettled childhood, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ (penned with Goffin, King’s first Number One hit at 17), comments not on the pair’s first night together but King’s fears of her husband’s infidelity and ‘One Fine Day’ presents his eventual affair from the perspective of both women.

The show includes all of King’s countless hit songs including ’Take Good Care of My Baby’, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’ and ‘It’s Too Late.’ A cameo from Little Eva singing ‘The Locomotion’ on roller skates is unforgettable and we were informed of a little known fact that she was King’s babysitter before becoming famous. Cutler’s rendition of ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ gives chills and received a standing ovation.

Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick play likable duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, the songwriting duo who are also infamous in music history with hits such as ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’, and ‘Who Put the Bomp’ and whose rivalry with King and Goffin is legendarily held together by a genuine life-long friendship. Tom Milner does great work as King’s troubled, two-timing husband, Gerry.

Special mention must be made of the extremely talented ensemble who are all multi-talented and sing, dance and play an assortment of musical instruments. Josh Prince’s choreography is to be applauded and the scenic design by Derek McLane is wonderfully versatile. The show is directed brilliantly by Marc Bruni, coordinating the transitions from recording studios, small offices and living rooms to performance stages in nightclubs.

Costume designer Alejo Vietti deftly moved the ensemble from the 1950’s through to the 1970’s with notable magic moments such as the Shirelles’ and Little Eva’s instant change from comfortable rehearsal clothes to glamorous performance wear.

This is an uplifting, inspiring tale of personal growth of how a sixteen-year-old wannabe songwriter lives through the pain of infidelity and being a divorced single mum but later surpasses all the odds to become a world-class solo recording artist. It is certainly easy to understand why King’s songs still resonate today and why they are classics. It is a show for all ages, from those who still remember the songs from the eras they were written in, to youngsters discovering the songs today.

Runs until 15th October 2022

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. 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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