Beautiful - The Carole King Musical

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre


The appropriately titled Beautiful is a biographical juke box musical which follows the life of Carole King from 1958, as a 16-year-old would be songwriter to 1971, when at the height of her career as a singer songwriter, she performs Tapestry at Carnegie Hall.

The opening set is simple but effective, a grand piano and empty stool sit centre stage bathed in the purple hue of stage lighting with a bank of bright spotlighting behind; a blackout and as if by magic Carole King (Bronté Barbé) is sat at the piano, awestruck by the amount of people in the unseen audience as she performs at Carnegie Hall.

At the end of the first number So Far Away, the piano and the bank of lights roll away, the stage lights change and the audience is transported to the Brooklyn home of Carole Joan Klein as she arrives home from college eager to play her first song for her mother Genie Klein (Carol Royle).

The multi layered, ever changing set design by Derek Mclane is striking, the transitions from scene to scene are seamless and a joy to watch.

There is a delightful ‘pop-up’ appearance by Neil Sedaka (Ben Morris), as he sings the classic Oh Carol while King tells her mother of her plans to go to Times Square in order to sell her song. Despite her mother’s shock; ‘if there were only two places; Hell and Times Square, Hell would be where the nice people live!’ she gives her permission and the rest as they say is history.

Douglas McGrath’s book is understated and successfully brings emotion and warmth to the storytelling of King’s life and works. Fortunately, there is no feeling of the storyline being shoe-horned between an endless list of songs, as in so many juke box musicals.

Instead, the popular numbers feel perfectly placed around the well written dialogue, which serves to demonstrate the determination and strength behind this remarkable woman and her amazing success. Under the direction of Marc Bruni, the production flows at pace, with Josh Prince’s energetic choreography and Alejo Vietti’s well-chosen costume design taking us through the decades as if in a time machine.

Bronté Barbé’s portrayal of Carole King is superb. She not only performs the iconic  songs with believable tone and delivery reminiscent of King herself, but she brings heaps of character and emotion to the role as she moves from naive teenager, through to young mother, cheated on wife and highly successful singer/ songwriter.

The strong supporting cast give noteworthy performances with excellent vocals and delivery of dialogue. Understudy Grant McConvey successfully steps up to the role of lyricist and cheating husband Gerry Goffin, convincingly portraying the confused and labile personality of his character.  Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves, as the friendly song writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, capture their roles with extraordinary ease and splendid characterisation.

Packed with all the well known songs from the partnerships of Gerry Goffin & Carole King and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, the production is a high energy, foot tapping experience. It’s almost impossible to refrain from singing along or dancing in the aisles as the cast and ensemble, convincingly and with remarkable attention to detail, recreate songs by the Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers, Little Eva, Marilyn Ward and the afore mentioned Neil Sedaka! 

Songs include a host familiar titles such as Up on the Roof, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, and One Fine Day.  The show culminates in powerful and beautifully sung renditions of (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman and the eponymous Beautiful.

Worthy of the standing ovation it received this thoroughly entertaining and emotive production is truly Beautiful. Highly recommended. To 16-06-18

Rosemary Manjunath


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