Beautiful: Carole King The Musical | Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • Runs until Saturday 28 October ’17
By Conor O’Neill
Being born in the mid-70s, growing up to whatever my older sister and mum and dad were listening to before finding I had ears of my own, I like most of my generation was totally unaware who Carole King was. That said I was probably listening to her while in the womb and unwittingly have been listening to her work ever since.
King’s songs have been recorded by some of the best sellers in five decades in showbiz: B. B. King, The Shirelles, The Beatles, The Chiffons, The Monkees, Isaac Hayes, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Steve Taylor, K.D Lang, Black Eyed Peas, Mary J. Blige and, ahem, Kylie Minogue are mere scratches of the surface. Typing her name into Youtube before the show I was amazed at how many songs were familiar. Of course they are! King has been behind over 100 hits performed by over 1000 artists.
Against all my expectations, the crowd was not just people 20 years my senior, there was a mixed combination of ages and genders, though women senior to my age were the majority.
The story begins at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and finishes there. It’s the years in between were all the action, torment, hardship, frustration, joy, and success occur. Naturally gifted, hopping two years of high school a 16-year-old King meets would-be-playwright Gerry Goffin and pals ups with song-writing rivals and future friends, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.
Cynthia is the stereotype of the New York broad. A go-getting cynic with nothing more on her mind than getting her way and making money and music as fast as she can. Her outlook on life is the direct opposite of King’s. Her attitude to love? “Love, the basis of hate.” Cynthia brings the sin to the show, her idea of fun being shots and strip poker. Barry’s a walking hypochondriac, who in between appointments with various specialists of medicine manages, along with Cynthia, to write a number of hits. The music here is not all King’s, hers is the bulk but Weil and Mann’s offerings get a good airing too. On Broadway, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place are happy additions to King’s repertoire.
Married at 17 and pregnant with the first of two daughters, music makes money and money transport the young family to the suburbs of New Jersey. The bee-bop and teenage laments of the early 60s have competition. The Beatles storm America, Dylan’s poetry and savage disdain for authority have Gerry feeling lampooned as a writer; his eyes and hands go elsewhere. Young record mogul Donnie Kirshner demands hit after hit. Something has to give. I gave up noting the number of set changes. The crew work as hard as the cast. From Brooklyn apartment to Donnie’s office, recording studios in New York and L.A, holiday cottages in Vermont, New Jersey’s suburbs, television sets and back again to Carnegie Hall will assure most viewers will not be complaining of boredom or variation.
Throw in over 25 songs of varying tempos and genres including The Locomotion, One Fine day, Natural Woman, It’s Too Late, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Beautiful plus multiple cameos, the ensemble, 1040 adoring fans and the hour and 30 minutes fly by. Leading the cast is, of course, King, Leigh Lothian plays portrayal of the meek mouse of a girl at the beginning to the empowered woman of the world that is Bronte Barbe at the end is captivating. Both actors deserve equal credit though it did make things slightly hard to follow. Kane Oliver Parry’s tormented soul brings both empathy and a touch of disgust as we naturally bond with King. Amy Ellen Richardson’s Cynthia has been touched upon earlier, but she made my night. Matthew Gonsalves as Barry Mann gets the jokes, or rather, is the butt of the jokes and alongside King’s mum, Carol Royle’s train-smoking realist Genie and the step-to-it Donnie Kirshner’s energy and wit delivered by Adam Howden and you have a great combination. Hell, even the ensemble have West End sweat dripping out of their CVs.
But, and I’m afraid there is a ‘but’, the music, with a few exceptions was and is a bit too saccharine for my taste. I loved the story, can’t fault the acting, the undertow of politics and struggles with artistic credibility moved me many times, set changes and musicianship up there with the best. Just not my type of music. But hey, I struggled to play Three Blind Mice on the penny whistle, 99.999% of the audience can’t be wrong. If Carol King and early 60s music is your thing, you’ll love this.
Beautiful The Carole King Musical runs until Saturday 28 October with a matinee show on Saturday afternoon. For booking details visit www.goh.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890241919.