Monday, 13 November 2017

REVIEW: Beautiful: The Carol King Musical at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A generation of girls grew up enjoying the music of Carole King and in particular her hugely successful 1971 album "Tapestry" which was listed on the Billboard 200 for over 300 weeks, was for many years the longest run by a female solo artist and has been ranked as one of the best ever albums. This slick and enjoyable production starts and ends with her first solo concert at Carnegie Hall in June 1971 and in between traces her story from her first song writing hit in 1960 for The Shirelles, "Will you love me tomorrow" through her first marriage to her song writing partner Gerry Goffin until she was confident to perform her work herself. It is a fascinating back story to the album that made her name and we learn so much about her emotional journey, the sixties writing factories and are surprised by the hits she wrote for other artistes before she had the courage to perform herself.

The core of the production is the rivalry between King/Goffin duo and Weill/Mann at Aldon Music where Donnie Kirshner regularly sets the challenge to give him a hit song for an artist by the following day. This competitive battle between the two couples defines their relationship and ultimately creates a loyal friendship between King and Weill. The production features strong performances from the leads with Kane Parry capturing the unfaithful Goffin, Matthew Gonsalves the infatuated Mann and Adam Howden the demanding Kirshner . However it is the two female leads that steal the show. Amy Richardson is a joy as Weill, putting her career before her love, with great energy and comedy but it is Bronte Barbe as King who is the star.

Barbe was a finalist in the TV audition show "Over the rainbow" but in Beautiful she is the outright winner . She perfectly creates King's emotional life from a sixteen year old rebelling against her overbearing mother, her first steps as an ambitious musician, as insecure girlfriend , as young mother and then wronged wife. She grows up and matures as an artist in front of us and sounds and looks like Carole King . She is at her very best in the big songs . Her tentative and nervous first studio recording of "Natural Woman" is wonderful, given extra poignancy by our knowledge of the breakdown of her first marriage. But she also gives us delightful renditions of "It might as well rain until September", "Will you love me tomorrow" and the title song "Beautiful " as a confident on stage performer.

The leads are supported by a terrific large ensemble of sixteen who play all the other characters in the story but come centre stage in recreating the original artistes who performed King's music. We are treated to the Drifters ,the Shirelles, little Eva (who realised the King wrote "the locomotion"?) the Righteous Brothers and the Chiffons and a short cameo from King's childhood boyfriend Neil Sedaka.

The production moves quickly and smoothly from Aldon Music offices, to
recording studios to the live stage and to the family homes. The lighting and setting recreates the feel and excitement of the emerging sixties music and gives the show a glossy feel. The cast are backed by a great eight piece band but the only disappointment is that it did not look like the on stage musicians were playing their instruments. 

This show is a Beautiful musical Tapestry which acts as a perfect classy tribute to the creative talent and pioneering spirit of Carole King.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

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