FeaturedMusicalReviewSouth East

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – Theatre Royal, Brighton 

Reviewer: Simon Topping

Book: Douglas McGrath

Director: Nikolai Foster 

Reviewer: Simon Topping 

The Theatre Royal, Brighton, is packed to the rafters and an air of excitement fills the room, as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, begins.  

The story, written by playwright and filmmaker Douglas McGrath, charts King’s early life as a songwriter in the Brill Building, New York; which is known for housing and nurturing some of the most influential songwriters of the twentieth century, especially of the 1950’s and 60’s, including Neil Diamond, Burt Bacharach and Paul Simon, as well as the protagonists we meet in today’s piece.

King (superbly played by Molly-Grace Cutler) is only sixteen when she meets the charismatic Gerry Goffin (Tom Milner) and the two both fall in love, as well as forming a formidable song writing team.  Within no time they are writing smash hits for the likes of The Shirelles and The Drifters, which pleases their demanding boss Donnie Kirshner (Garry Robson), who is always looking for the new sound and the next big thing.  

Driving on King and Goffin to be successful, in part, is the rivalry they have between them and Barry (Jos Slovick) and Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies), who are also prolific hit makers. In act one we watch the story unfold as Goffin and King struggle to make things work, with a young daughter taking up much of their time and energy, and are treated to a series of hits created by the talented duo as well as a couple of classics from Barry and Cynthia too. 

Although this a rather thinly plotted piece, the highly talented cast makes this musical shine. The actors playing the Shirelles are particularly wonderful to watch and have captured the splendour of the original group perfectly as they sing their number one hit, penny by Goffin and King, “Will you Love Me tomorrow”.  Other depictions of early King compositions also wow the audience, including The Drifters, “Up on the Roof” and “The Locomotion” sung by King’s babysitter at the time, Little Eva.

The staging and costume evoke the sixties well and the main setting of the play, a recording studio in the Brill Building, is beautifully designed by Frankie Bradshaw to flip and turn into smaller sets when more intimate settings are required. 

Cutler holds the crowd’s attention throughout as the young King tries to find her place in the world while she contends with a philandering and drug taking husband, who isn’t happy writing “Bubblegum pop”.  She has a commanding presence when she sings and excellently executes King’s back catalogue; it is a very strong outing from the performer. 

The central cast around Cutler are marvellous too.  Milner portrays Goffin in a suitably brooding and aloof way and Robson exudes kindly grouchiness, as the impatient, but loveable Kirshner.  

Slovick, as Barry, provides most of the comedic moments in the show, switching from constantly worrying about his health to an imbued arrogance, fueled by his insecurities. Slovick is a natural comedian.  The way he sings The Righteous Brothers hit, “You’ve lost that Loving Feeling”, is genuinely funny and garners a lot of laughter in the room.  As does the performance by Peter Mooney and Dan-De-Cruz, who play the duo in a hilarious way. 

The wider cast are amazingly talented. It seems everyone is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, actor and fabulous dancer.  The set pieces are stunning and glamorous.  

The second half allows for Cutler to shine further as the story moves forward, exploring King as a solo artist, having divorced Goffin and looking at the creation of King’s 25 million selling debut album, Tapestry. Here the audience are treated to fabulous renditions of King classics from that period, including “It’s Too Late”, “I Feel the Earth Move” and  “A Natural Woman”. There is a palpable warmth in the auditorium towards these songs and the crowd begin to sing along and become part of the performance. 

The whole cast sparkle is this nostalgic, touching and  affectionately made piece, which lights up the Brighton audience and ends in a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd.    

Reviewed on 29th March and on UK Tour 

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