#Tweetingit –This musical’s some kind of wonderful, it’ll make you want to go up on the roof; you’ll still love it tomorrow! Carole King = legend.
What should I write…what should I say? The opening line of Carole King’s debut hit, It might as well rain until September. My thoughts exactly, as I searched for a description worthy of a show that should really be called Perfect. So I guess you’re thinking: not another jukebox musical?! But Beautiful is much more than a cobbled collection of songs with a wafer thin plot. It tells the remarkable story of a girl from Brooklyn, who began playing piano aged four; made her first TV appearance aged eight and cut her first single at sixteen. Carole’s mother, Genie despaired at her obsession with writing music; you should teach music not write it! But the prodigy was unmoved, protesting that a song was like having a friend in the room. Carole met Gerry Goffin at college, whom she married when pregnant with daughter Louise. Gerry, a frustrated playwright began writing lyrics to Carole’s music. Being oh so sensible they took day jobs and wrote songs in the evening. Gerry’s sensitive lyrics added depth to Carole’s intricate melodies as they honed songs to perfection.
They first hit pay dirt in 1960 when the Shirelles reached number one with Will you love me tomorrow. Carole went on to co-write four US chart topping singles before the age of twenty. We sense the agony and ecstasy of writing a hit song, at a time when there were no samplers, drum machines or synthesisers to aid the process. All they had was a piano and large helping of inspiration. The songs are carefully placed in chronological order to represent various stages in their lives; it documents their stormy marriage and friendly rivalry with songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; the invasion of British groups writing their own songs; Carole’s baffling insecurity as a solo artist and her own stuttering recording career through the 60s. Rumours persist that Carole sang the lead vocal on another number one single The locomotion, but credited her babysitter Little Eva instead! Carole’s stage fright is finally cured with the release of Tapestry, a truly brilliant album, revealing her new found confidence as a singer-songwriter in the 70s.
Despite its subtitle, the musical’s not just about Carole King. Gerry Goffin is studied in some detail as he struggled to write lyrics that were both current and meaningful in a socially volatile decade. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil provide the competitive foil in their friendship with Goffin and King, and manage to knock out the odd classic themselves, including You’ve lost that loving feeling, On Broadway and We got to get out of this place. The cast are flawless in the execution of their respective roles. Cassidy Janson is terrifyingly good in the title role, perfectly matching the raw power of King’s voice, especially on (You make me feel like) a natural woman and It’s too late. Alan Morrissey as Gerry performs solidly as the college heart throb for whom Carole falls; while Lorna Want fully justifies her Olivier award delivering a dazzling turn as Cynthia. Ian McIntosh is also excellent as Barry, making the most of his character’s hypochondriac tendencies and getting the funniest lines. TV sitcom veteran Diane Keen also added value to the storyline in her role as Genie. The ensemble cast were in fine form as they featured artists who recorded King’s songs; the Drifters were the epitome of urban soul on Up on the Roof and Some Kind of Wonderful; and the Shirelles shimmered sexily on Will you love me tomorrow. It’s difficult to find fault with a production that pitches the songs perfectly with the narrative. Unlike other juke box musicals, it makes no attempt to twist the plot and make it fit the songs; but then again it doesn’t need to; they just appear at the point at which they were written. This allows the plot to develop independently and provide clarity in the narrative. The show has deservedly garnered awards both on Broadway and the West End stage which prove its universal appeal. The nights are warming up and I can’t think of a better reason to get out of the house!
Words and Music: Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Book: Douglas McGrath
Director: Marc Bruni
Producer: Chris Harper
Musical Director: Matt Smith
Choreographer: Josh Prince
Booking Link: http://beautifulmusical.co.uk/ticket-info/
Box Office: 0845 200 7981
Reviewer: Brian Penn