Monday, 20 January 2020

REVIEW: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Beautiful the musical starts its new national tour at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. Riding on the back of an Olivier award winning West End run. It’s a straightforward biographical juke box musical telling the little known story of Carole King who, with her partner/husband Gerry Goffin, wrote dozens of chart hits which have become the sound of popular music – Will You Love Me Tomorrow?, The Locomotion, Up on the Roof, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman and heaps more. She then went on to become a star performer in her own right. Those coming late to the party may also know of her as the writer and performer of the theme tune to the TV series Gilmore Girls, in which she also appeared.

Although the juke box/biography form is used in a completely conventional way, what sets this show apart from others is the sheer quality, quantity and variety of songs written by King and her friends cum rivals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who wrote You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, the most played song of the 20th century).

Because King wrote so much for other artists, choosing songs to suit their style, the music on offer has huge variety. Sure, the result is largely a concert of her greatest hits, but the balance between this and her personal story is well judged and well paced. And the song performances are, without exception, brilliant. Stand-out moments came courtesy of Damien Winchester, Ronald Brian, Samuel Nicholas and Toyan Thomas-Browne as The Drifters. Outstanding vocals, snappy suits and even snappier dance moves left me thinking I could enjoy a whole evening with them.

King’s song writing career started when she was 17 and the show illustrates her relationship with Gerry Goffin (they married when she was still 17) and their mostly friendly rivalry with fellow song writing duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. As King, Daisy Wood-Davis (best known for Hollyoaks), conveys na├»ve charm and effortless musicality. It’s a big part and the show needs a strong performer in it. Wood-Davis delivers in fine form whilst not making it seem like hard work. Adam Gillian as her husband Gerry Goffin has the freedom of playing someone who is no longer alive and can show his angst and anger. Goffin clearly found the creative process harder than did King. 

Equally watchable on stage are King and Goffin’s friends and song writing rivals, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. As Weill, the always brilliant Laura Baldwin (fresh from starring in Waitress in the West End) is sparky and sharp with great energy. Combined with Cameron Sharp as Mann they are also get to deliver some great comic lines, as does Susie Fenwick as King’s mother.

The staging is stylish, slick and effective, giving performances plenty of room, which the choreography (particularly for the previously mentioned Drifters), fully exploits.

If you’re looking for deep insights into the creative process or an analysis of popular music’s place in the social history of the 20th century, you’ll find this rushed and a little lightweight. But as a sampler for an unbelievably talented and prolific song writer it’s hard to beat.

Review by John Charles

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, L34 | Price of Ticket: £46.50
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