Thursday, 1 March 2018

REVIEW: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at New Victoria Theatre, Woking

My mother has assured me that even in-utrero, I was music mad. I would wriggle around when she played rock music and rest when she lulled me to sleep with the melodies of Classic FM. I may only be 23 but that doesn’t mean my music knowledge started in 1994 – I’ve been a fan of many artists, spanning back decades, but what I didn’t realise that so many of these artists have in common was that some of their biggest hits were all written by the same woman; Aretha Franklin, The Shirelles, The Drifters, Little Eva and The Monkees – she wrote for them all. This writer was none other than Carole King.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a semi-autobiographical show about the life and times of this legendary figure of music, showcasing not only her career but her personal life and those most close to her, including her husband and lyricist– Gerry Goffin. More then 1000 artists have interpreted the songs of Carole King, resulting in 100 hit singles. King is one of the greatest musical influencers you’ve potentially never heard of. I, for one, sat stunned and almost ashamed not realising just how many remarkable songs this one woman penned. 

I was assured by my guest for Woking’s Press Night performance that the show is “virtually lifted” from London’s West End onto the touring stage. It remains a clean-cut and refined piece with some exceptionally sleek movements and costume changes. This show features a great ensemble cast, but without a strong Carole King, this production would have no hope of succeeding. Luckily, this production features a real star. 

Bronté Barbé plays the titular role of Carole King and is exceptional. Her voice suits the role to perfection and she transitions through the show from the young, ambitious teen, into the mother-of-two and world-renowned song writing phenomenon she eventually became with such ease. “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” was Barbé’s greatest vocal of the evening. The penultimate song in the show simply radiated emotion and passion – I felt my hands shaking as she lost herself in the music. “You’ve Got A Friend” was also particularly special and emotionally poignant thanks to its sincerity. I found myself teary eyed within a few chords of the song starting and by the end, I was a sobbing mess. 

As her husband and writing-partner Gerry Goffin is Kane Oliver Parry who matches Bronté in every respect. They look brilliant together and I was transported back in time watching the pair of them as childhood sweethearts and young parents together. Some Kind Of Wonderful was an enchanting duet which I could have happily listened to on repeat for hours after the show ended. This show is all about Carole but the story is so much more than just her music. It’s about the love and heartbreaks she and her friends endured. 

Playwright Alan Bennett wrote in his play The History Boys – “The best moments
in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met…and it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” Carole King was a poet in her own right, and her lyrics resonate so powerfully and pull at every heart-string in your chest. 

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Yes, Miss Barbé, I will. This show does King complete justice and showcases her wonderful work in a truly Beautiful way. 

Review by Harriet Langdown

Rating: ★★★★
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