cutler as king

Molly-Grace Cutler excelling as Carole King

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome


Beautiful pretty well sums up a musical charting the early life of one of, if not the, greatest female singer/songwriters of all time – Carole King, now 80 and still making her mark.

This is much more than a run of the mill jukebox musical though, it is a celebration of her talent from her debut 1960 hit, written while she was still at school, to her seminal album Tapestry in 1971 which made her an overnight international star – the night having had more than a decade to dawn.

There is theatre there, a drama which stands on its own with the music, good as it is, part of that story, a story that, in truth, would make a more than decent play in the hands, of say, a Tennessee Williams.

Tapestry was a watershed moment. Until that record breaking album she was largely unknown, not that that was unusual in pop, people had heard of the likes of songwriters such as Irving Berlin and  Cole Porter, but writers of pop records? Who are they?

Tin Pan Alley in New York had employed songwriters and composers by the dozen for years, churning out songs to feed the sheet music industry and new kid on the block, the Brill Building, employed the same technique for the boom in radio and rock and roll. Inside was a music factory, a production line of hits . . . and misses . . . from lyricists and composers, turning out songs by the yard most of which were memorable only in that they were eminently forgettable.

But among the never see the light of day flops and airtime fillers were some gems, often with King’s name in the credits.

King and Goffin

Molly-Grace Cutler as Carole King and Tom Milner as Gerry Goffin

King, who had become pregnant by and then married boyfriend Gerry Goffin when she was just 17, wrote the music, Gerry the lyrics, and they ended up working for Don Kirshner, legendary record producer, publisher, manager (The Monkees, Kansas and The Archies among others) and talent spotter.

The breakthrough was their first hit, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, for The Shirelles in 1960 - the first song by a black all-girls group to reach No 1 in thr USA.

 The song, incidentally, appears four times in various guises in the musical, more than any other song, the last time in a sad and painful part of King’s life in the breakup from Gerry,

The pair went on to wrote a string of hits, Take Good Care of My Baby for Bobby Vee, Some Kind of Wonderful and Up on the Roof for the Drifters, The Locomotion for Little Eva (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman for Aretha Franklin and a host of others such as I’m into Something Good, Halfway to Paradise . . . far too many to fit into a two hour show – 118 pop hits on the Billboard Top 100 and 61 that charted in Britain.

Their great friends, and rivals, were another songwriting team, in an adjoining office, with lyricist Cynthia Weil and composer Barry Mann, who had their own successes with the likes of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ for The Righteous Brothers, Walking in the Rain for The Ronettes and We Gotta Get Out of This Place for The Animals.

Jos Slovick is wonderful as the hypochondriac Barry, with a wry line in misery, happiest when he can see doom on the horizon with Seren Sandham-Davies the bubbling, vivacious Cynthia Weil – Seren brings a mean trumpet to the party as well.

Chris Coxon, standing in for Tom Milner, who is on paternity leave, gives us that strange mix that was Gerry, one minute loving husband, the next serial philanderer, with frightening mood swings, all accentuated by his use of LSD and mescaline, along with a series of mental problems.

weil and mann

Seren Sandham-Davies as Cynthia Weil and Jos Slovick as Barry Mann

Eventually King, who tried to stand by him through his adulterous relationships, hoping he would tire of them, and return to be the man who she married, had had enough. The pair divorced and she moved to Los Angeles.

King was never glamourous, never hot, in the parlance of the day, she was . . . ordinary, like most of the world, but with an extraordinary talent and Molly-Grace Cutler portrays her quite beautifully. She comes over as just that, ordinary, a mum, happy to write music, desperate to keep a dying marriage alive until life support is gives out and she breaks free of the vows that had become chains.

She could be your next door neighbour, a school run mum, that is until she touches that piano and what a voice. It is a performance to savour and when her life falls apart you really do feel for her; need a friend? she got a whole audience of them.

Unfaithful husband cast aside, unmarried mother of two, her lyricist gone, her career on the line, she’s lost, but her mother Genie, played with maternal care by Claire Greenway, reminds her that she started by writing her own songs, her own feelings, her own words. King is about to find her own voice and the whole world is about to hear it.


Dan de Cruz, On-stage Musical Director, and Peter Mooney as the Righteous Brothers

Garry Robson is an avuncular Donnie Kirshner and sets King up in California with top producer Lou Adler, played by Kevin Yates, who also sports a fine voice as one of The Drifters.

From New York to LA  and Tapestry is born, a bittersweet album, and the first with all but one track her own words and music. It was King’s second, her first much underrated Writer from a year earlier didn’t make much impression beyond the modest approval of critics until after Tapestry.

Tapestry spawned four top 20 singles, and Grammy awards for best Album of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year (It's Too Late), and Song of the Year (You've Got a Friend).

It topped the Billboard 200 for 15 weeks, still a record for a female solo artist and spent 318 weeks in the charts, a record for 40 years, selling in excess of 25 million copies.

The album had James Taylor on guitar and a certain Joni Mitchell, a friend of Kings. as a backing singer. Carole King might not have been a household name before but everyone was going to know her now!

The album was simple, no frills, no soaring strings or heavy orchestrations. King’s voice is honest, conversation in song, playing her piano and telling her story, a story people are still buying today.

Nikolai Foster, the celebrated Danish artistic director at The Curve, Leicester, directs this new production with his usual care and flair with Leah Hill adding those period touches in her choreography with boy bands and girl bands a plenty all kept on their toes with a brilliant onstage band from the multitasking cast under musical director Dan De Cruz, who doesn’t escape, he has to double up as half the Righteous Brothers and Neil Sedaka.

Frankie Bradshaw’s set gives us a recording studio with roll on panels for ski lodge, home, school, and is open, three walls on the huge Hippodrome stage, almost to say welcome to theatre, this is drama and in an inspired touch it is a set with no roof that lets us see way up into the flies with Ben Cracknell’s LED and computerised lighting rigs not only on show but becoming part of the action. This is immersive theatre.

Quality rings out with every note in what is wonderful entertainment and, for some, a heavy dose of nostalgia; 51 years ago Tapestry, a deceptively simple  and unsophisticated, honest album that struck a chord which still rings today.

King has gone on, written and recorded more and more but Tapestry will always by the shining beacon that defines her. To 03-09-22

Roger Clarke


Beautiful: the Carole King Musical will return to the Midlands at Coventry Belgrade,1-5 November 2022 

Index page Hippodrome Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre