Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton – until 8 February 2020
Reviewed by Boo Wakefield
My companion turned to me at the end of the first act of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical and all she could say was “wow”!
Directed by Marc Bruni, Beautiful is the story of Carole King’s life from a gawky, enthusiastic wannabe 16 year old singer/song writer getting her first break in 1958, through the 60s up to 1970 when she released her first solo album. This true story is told through the songs she composed with her husband Gerry Goffin, who wrote lyrics to her music. They are constantly challenged by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, another song writing couple, who are as keen to write the next number one as they are and are their best friends. King’s marriage is not a happy one with Goffin struggling under the pressures of needing to produce the next hit alongside King’s need for him to be part of a normal family life with their young daughter.
The story runs smoothly through the incredible 26 songs written mainly by King and are sung by the ensemble as the story progresses. Songs we all know from the Righteous Brothers, the Drifters and the Shirelles to name but a few are belted out with obvious joy and passion from this talented group. Josh Prince’s choreography sits perfectly in these performances, taking you right back to the 60s. Alejo Vietti is a magician as the costume designer – the typical 1960’s dress that Little Eva wears as King’s nanny which then changes to a fabulous shimmering silver and purple dress for her to perform “Locomotion” in, with one smooth motion on stage is amazing. This is all complimented by the staging which seems to constantly move, sometimes as if by magic, so that the story never seems to falter. Derek McLane, as Scenic Designer, has been so clever to not over complicate the large space The Durngate Auditorium gives, the larger of the two stages at Northampton, allowing room for the performers to move with the staging as they perform their many songs.
The two couples, Carole King (Daisy Wood-Davis) and Gerry Goffin (Adam Gillian) alongside Cynthia Weil (Laura Baldwin) and Barry Mann (Cameron Sharp) are a quirky mixture of characters who compliment each other. Weil and Mann are a light relief with Weil’s sharp wit and Mann’s constant hypercondria to King’s often down to earth, almost dowdy character and Goffin’s struggles with the pressures and temptations of the music industry. This quartet are exceptional, both vocally and dramatically, and deliver a quality performance throughout.
But Daisy Wood-Davis really is the star of the show. She shows her immense skills as an actor transforming from a dream-filled innocent teenager through to her 30s as a mother struggling to cope with her huge success and disastrous marriage seamlessly. Her voice is electrifying – from her first song (“So Far Away”) to her rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, Wood-Davis draws you into her character with such emotion and is mesmerising.
My companion turned to me at the end of the second act and all she could still say was “wow” along with the regret that the story didn’t continue into a third act. Beautiful is beautiful – a great evening of musical theatre and one you should definitely see.