Writer: Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Director: Marc Bruni
Choreographer: Josh Prince
Reviewer: Julia Beasley
Anyone old enough to remember Carole King in 1971 probably has a soft spot for Tapestry, the classic album that confirmed her as one of the best singer-songwriters ever. Intimate and articulate about women’s experience, it’s no wonder that Tapestry went on to become one of the most popular albums of all time, selling over 25 million copies.
The musical biopic currently at Bristol’s Hippodrome offers an insight into King’s early career before she was quite so famous. It starts with Carole at 16 years of age. The 1960s are about to begin and Carole sells her first song, gets pregnant and is swiftly married to lyricist Gerry Goffin. It ends in 1968, with Carole a successful songwriter and single parent of two daughters. She’s about to move from New York to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles where her own singing career will take off, big time.
The intervening period was hugely productive in terms of songwriting. She and husband Gerry Goffin were the team behind classic songs including Will You Love Me Tomorrow (the Shirells), Take Good Care of My Baby (Bobby Vee), The Loco-Motion (Little Eva), It Might As Well Rain Until September (released by Carole herself), Up on the Roof (the Drifters), One Fine Day (the Chiffons), Pleasant Valley Sunday (the Monkees) and Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin).
It’s a cheerful, glittering romp through favourite tunes from an era when artistes mostly did not write their own material, and singles were churned out factory-style. Carole and Gerry’s best friends were another successful words-and-music couple Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, whose hits included On Broadway (the Drifters), You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling (Righteous Brothers) and We Gotta Get Outta This Place (the Animals).
The cast of Beautiful includes Carole’s mother, husband, best friends, producer – and an ensemble of singers and dancers who bring the music joyfully to life. There’s even an entrance or two from Neil Sedaka who wrote Oh!Carol about her. Bronté Barbé in the lead role is magnetic with her powerful voice and convincing portrayal of the small, plain Jewish girl from Brooklin who became a star.
In the end, Beautiful might have been simply a catalogue of sparkling jukebox hits. What saves and lifts it is the unassuming and vulnerable character of Carole herself, a bright and funny young woman who had the courage to express her vulnerability in music. Beautiful demonstrates just how great a force she was before she found her own voice in Tapestry. It’s an uplifting treat both for those who can remember the 1970s, and those who missed it.
Runs until 7 April 2018 | Image: Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff