Beautiful  The Carole King Musical Review

Theatre Royal Nottingham – until Saturday 8 October 2022

Reviewed by Louise Ford


Oh Carole!

Before I start this review I think it is wise to confess that I don’t own a copy of Tapestry (although I have heard of it!) and who knew so many songs were written by the King/ Goffin partnership! More than 400 of their compositions have been recorded by over 1,000 artists and includes more than 100 hit singles.

Beautiful is the incredible story of singer- songwriter, Carole Klein/ King (Molly-Grace Cutler) and  is told through her songs . It charts the rise of pop music from the 1960s to the 1970s. The King/Goffin songs have a depth and emotion that is a million miles away from the light pop songs in the charts of the early 1960s, as one character points out these songs (Stupid Cupid, Yakety Yak or Splish Splash) could have been written by a dolphin.

The play is book-ended by King performing solo at New York Carnegie Hall. However the story starts with  King at home in Brooklyn with her mother (Claire Greenway), a music teacher who wants King to follow in her footsteps and be a teacher, rather than pursue a career as a writer. King’s early life isn’t really touched upon, her father is a largely absent figure (he never appears in the play)  and is only mentioned by her mother as an adulterer, who will always be the love of her life. King is seen playing the piano and composing lyrics. Although it is mentioned how clever she is and that she skipped two grades and is in classes two years above her age, it isn’t really explored what drives her to compose.

King meets Gerry Goffin (Tom Milner) at High School and there is a mutual attraction and their song writing partnership is born. With a school friend King decides to take one of her compositions to the genial music mogul Don Kirshner (Garry Robson). He takes on her song and the rest is history. In the writers hot house there is another pair of writers Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies) and Barry Mann (Jos Slovick) . The friendly rivalry between the pairs to produce songs and the elusive No 1 is nicely portrayed.

The story is interspersed with embryonic songs, picked out by King on the piano which then develop into full blown productions complete with sharp suits, sequins, furs and glamour (costumes by Edd Lindley)

The over arching feeling of the play is the pressure and chaos of the music industry where writers struggle to get the peace and space to write. It all seems very frenetic and pressurised.

The beauty of the play is the music. The instruments are played by all members of the cast from percussion to piano to saxophone, it’s smart and slick. The contrast between the big band glitzy sound to the quiet solo performances by King is very moving.

All in all whilst we don’t learn a great deal about the back stories of the main characters there are enough hints and clues to give an outline, it is rather a tapestry of songs and music covering the rise of pop music in the 1960s.