Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Nov 29 2017 | By More

★★★★★    Oh Carole

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 28 Nov – Sat 2 Dec 2017
Review by Martin Gray

Beautiful, the musical life story of a pop legend Carole King makes for perfect entertainment at the Playhouse all week until Saturday.

It Might as Well Rain Until September. Some Kind of Wonderful. Will You Love Me Tomorrow. The Locomotion. You’ve Got a Friend. A battery of brilliant songs which could be strung together into a pretty decent jukebox musical.

Bronté Barbé and ensemble. Pic: Craig Sugden

Beautiful delivers a lot more than that by presenting them as part of the life story of the woman who wrote or co-wrote them, Carole King.

Before she was Carole King, singer-songwriter, she was Carol Klein from Brooklyn, a 16-year-old sharp enough to have skipped two grades whose divorcee mother dreamed she’d become a teacher (“Girls don’t write music, they teach it”).

Carole has other ideas, hawking her songs at 1650 Broadway, which houses songwriters by the score, writing hits to order. She sells a song to producer and talent manager Donnie Kirshner, but it’s pretty much a fluke – she has the melodies, but the words don’t come easily. Enter Gerry Goffin, fellow student, aspiring playwright and, it turns out, complementary lyricist.

Before long they’re writing partners and in love. An unplanned pregnancy leads to a speedy, but sincere, marriage proposal and when hits such as Take Good Care of My Baby and It Might as Well Rain Until September follow, the future looks bright.

another pair of talents

They have space at Kirshner’s office next to another pair of talents, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and a friendly rivalry is born. Who’ll get to number one in the Billboard charts first? Who’ll get the best act to sing their material?

Matthew Gonsalves and Amy Ellen Richardson. Pic Craig Sugden

But beyond the rivalry is that friendship, and it’s this that forms the heart of Beautiful. Smart, confident Carole. Highly strung Gerry. Hilarious hypochondriac Barry. Wildly witty Cynthia. They’re a dynamite quartet, superbly written by Douglas McGrath – Barry and Cynthia could have walked off the set of a screwball comedy but they’re far from caricatures. All the lead parts are convincingly sketched human beings, with the details filled in by the actors.

Bronté Barbé is wonderful as Carole King, showing us her many colours, from cocky kid to disappointed wife to triumphant solo artist. She never undersells King’s talent but when the second act sees Barbé combine a tougher side with the earlier tenderness, Carole King unleashed is something to behold. Barbé’s acting is never less than excellent and usually it’s more. As for her singing, it’s a bewitching homage to one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.

Kane Oliver Parry manages to keep Goffin sympathetic even in his lowest moments, having made us like him so much in the early part of the show. He’s a very masculine presence, but never overly macho – it’s easy to believe this guy wants to touch people with his words in three-minute pop songs.

As for Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves as Cynthia and Barry, they’re a magical match. I wouldn’t want more of them in the show – this is King’s story, after all – but could we have a spin-off please? Their comic timing, their solo singing and duets… Richardson and Gonsalves are gifts to this production.

marvellous value for money

The entire ensemble is marvellous value for money. At any moment someone might be a Drifter, or a Shirelle, a Righteous Brother or a pop-up Neil Sedaka, and everyone is up to the task, giving us numbers not just by King and Goffin, but Mann, Weil and other writers of classic pop songs. Especially enjoyable are Leigh Lothian as King’s mother Genie, a Brooklyn matron straight out of Seventies sitcom Rhoda, and Esme Laudat as King’s surprisingly talented babysitter…

Bronté Barbé and ensemble. Pic Craig Sugden

Beautiful is chock-full of gorgeous musical set pieces, with standouts being 1650 Broadway Medley, a collection of songs that shows the breadth of talent in Kirshman’s building; King’s heartbreaking It’s Too Late; and a spine-tinglingly lovely, no-doubt-fictional first airing of You’ve Got a Friend that makes perfect theatrical sense.

Original director Marc Bruni and touring directors Ed Goggin and Alastair Knights have produced a cracking piece of theatre, mixing character, incident and song to compelling effect.

The Fifties and Sixties wardrobe put together by Alejo Vietti has me itching to get to the nearest vintage emporium, while the set design of Derek McLane switches between glum and glam in an instant. Steve Sidwell’s music arrangements are deliciously translated by the band led by musical director Patrick Hurley, who expertly plays keyboards for cast members from the pit thanks to a handy hidden camera above the on-stage piano.

There isn’t a weak link in this production. It’s only on until Saturday – if you’ve not got a ticket, let’s hope it’s not too late, baby.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval).
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tuesday 28 November – Saturday 2 December 2017
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees: Wed, Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:

Tour website:
On Twitter: @BeautifulUKTour .
On Facebook: @ BeautifulUKTour.

Beautiful on tour 2017/18:
28 Nov – 2 Dec 2017 Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
12 Dec – 6 Jan 2018 Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
9 – 20 Jan 2018 Dublin
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377 Book online
23 – 27 Jan 2018 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
31 Jan – 3 Feb 2018 Birmingham
0844 338 5000 Book online
6 – 10 Feb 2018 Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
13 – 17 Feb 2018 Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
20 – 24 Feb 2018 Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
08448 717652 Book online
27 Feb – 3 March 2018 Woking
New Victoria
0844 871 7645 Book online
6 – 10 March 2018 Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
27 – 31 March 2018 Canterbury
The Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
3 – 7 April 2018 Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
17 – 21 April 2018 Ipswich
01473 433100 Book online
24 – 28 April 2018 Stoke-on-Trent
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online
1 – 5 May 2018 Liverpool
08448 713 017 Book online
8 – 12 May 2018 Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
22 – 26 May 2018 Wimbledon
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646 Book online
29 May – 2 June 2018 Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
5 – 9 June 2018 Dartford
Orchard Theatre
01322 220000 Book online
12 – 16 June 2018 Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
01902 429212 Book online
19 – 23 June 2018 Blackpool
Winter Gardens
0844 856 1111 Book online

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,