Grand Theatre, Leeds – until 2 June 2018
Although I know who Carole King is – my parents had a vinyl version of Tapestry – I wasn’t aware just how many songs she was responsible for. Thankfully now I’ve seen Beautiful in Leeds, my music knowledge is slightly more complete.
Bronte Barbe stars as King in the show’s first (and hopefully not last) national tour. From the emotive vulnerable performance of Its Too Late and resilient You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman, Barbe’s performance is flawless and awe-inspiring. Her excellent Brooklyn accent serves as a constant reminder of her humble roots and her striving not just for success but for the normality of suburbia.
Covering the early part of the singer’s career as 17-year-old Carole Klein, living with her divorced mother, Genie, (Carol Royal) in Brooklyn. Working with lyricist-boyfriend Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry), the story focuses on the struggle and the heartache that preceded the breakout success of King’s 1971 Grammy-winning solo album Tapestry, including the hits most associate with her today.
After meeting with producer Donnie Kirshner (Adam Howden), Carole gets her lucky break composing while she attends high school with Gerry. The two produce their first hit Some Kind of Wonderful followed by Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. With King-Goffin songs like Up on the Roof, The Locomotion (sung by their real-life babysitter, Little Eva) and One Fine Day, the soundtrack is boosted by friendly rival songwriting duo Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves) and Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson), who contribute immortal tunes like the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling and The Drifters’ On Broadway. The pair effortlessly complement Barbe and Parry. Richardson strong and sassy as Cynthia and Gonsalves awkward but lovable as Mann.
Unlike many Jukebox musicals which shoehorn songs into a weak and questionable plot, Beautiful has a true story to tell, and it doesn’t shy away from the facts. With marriage, success and two babies, all seems right with King’s life just as Goffin starts exhibiting signs of mental stress and infidelity. Parry embodies the role with swagger, warmth and intensity – seducing the audience with velvet vocals and boyish charm. Despite his flaws, you warm to his portrayal of the broken and mentally unstable Goffin and empathise with his plight
The many iconic stars of the 60’s and 70’s (Neil Sedaka, The Drifters, The Righteous Brothers, The Shirelles, Little Eva) are all played by the ensemble, the choreography by Josh Prince along with the talented vocals and high energy drive the show forward. The live band create the sound of the 60’s under the Musical Direction by Patrick Hurley
While many audience members recall the songs from the days when they were still hits, everyone can enjoy Beautiful. The songs are timeless. And King’s struggle to enjoy life and her realisation that she too can sing her own songs leading her to become a true musical phenomenon. Catch the show in Leeds until Saturday and on tour around the UK, then you too like me can sit and have the startling realisation of just how prolific and talented Carole King really is