It’s safe to say, when I sat amongst the packed out audience at MK Theatre on Tuesday, I was quite possibly one of the youngest audience members. With age comes wisdom and that wisdom would have assured the massed ranks that there was no way a musical featuring the music of Carole King could ever fail to deliver. I didn’t have that knowledge on my side, yes I have played tracks on the radio, but I have never truly taken the time to discover the legendary singer/songwriter.
Beautiful celebrates a period in the 1960’s when the music scene was moving fast, bright young things were desperate for their moment in the spotlight and in the case of Carole King, a legend was uncovered. Crammed full of hit after hit, you won’t fail to recognise any of the 26 songs that feature, in fact your only disappointment would be the mass of songs they had to leave out!
The show hurtles through at a pace, Carole (Bronte Barbe) quickly falls for an aspiring lyricist Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry) and before you know it a baby is on the way and a wedding ring is on her finger. The path soon leads to the door of Donnie Kirshner (Adam Howden) a music producer, desperate to find the next big hit for his act The Shirelles. It’s whilst desperately seeking the perfect track to present to Kirshner that Carole and Gerry meet Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves). The two pairs forge a close bond and battle competitively against each other to claim the next billboard hit. Of course though, it is not all happiness as the path of love comes up against a desire from Gerry to re-capture lost youth. Act one ends with Gerry confronting Carole and cues an emotional and hopeful rendition of “One Fine Day” from Barbe. It all sets up for a rollercoaster act two which tugs on your heart strings and sees Carole King reluctantly turn her back on her first love before establishing herself as a singer as well as songwriter.
There were so many highlights in this slick production. Barbe is sublime in the lead role and her vocals on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” had tears in my eyes, whilst her rousing rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” was simply joyous. I also loved the story of Mann and Weil and the highlight was when Bronte, Gonsalves and Richardson combined for a rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend”. If there was any negative, I would say that more could be made of the relationship breakdown of King and Goffin, but equally just like in the marriage – music always got in the way.
Beautiful is a true joy to watch and the casting is spot on. I am thankful for my first true introduction to Carole King and her hits. Needless to say I quickly downloaded the album “Tapestry” to accompany my drive home on Tuesday night. My musical education starts here….