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Beautiful – The Carole King Musical review

An inspiring and uplifting musical retelling of the solo music legend’s extraordinary career.

Beautiful at Leeds Grand Theatre
Beautiful at Leeds Grand Theatre

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical arrives at Leeds Grand Theatre this month following award-winning runs on Broadway and the West End.

Beautiful is the story of one of the 20th century’s most successful musicians, set against the rapidly-changing landscape of Sixties’ America – a decade when pop music broke down social barriers and gave rise to a previously ignored generation; the teenager.

Carole King is responsible for some of the greatest hit numbers from that time – but perhaps you wouldn’t have known it before experiencing Beautiful – a non-stop hit parade which shines a light on her earliest aspirations as a songwriter in the early Sixties, whilst charting a writing partnership and marriage to Gerry Goffin, before climaxing in a life-defining moment when performing solo at Carnegie Hall.

Dramatic scenes set between offices, living rooms and recording studios are punctuated with over 25 hits from the period – the majority written by King and Goffin. Classic songs such as Some Kind of Wonderful and Will You Love Me Tomorrow are instantly recognisable numbers, made into chart-toppers by The Drifters and Shirelles. The Locomotion and One Fine Day are equally memorable gems, again made famous by others, however the writing is all courtesy of King and her extraordinary ability to compose hit after hit.

Each number comes alive with outstanding visuals and vocals from an ensemble who recreate charismatic versions of The Drifters, Shirelles and more, including an irrepressibly hilarious incarnation of Neil Sedaka. Offering a pointed study of the choreography and visual style of the period, each musical routine is an effective showstopper and evenly signposts King’s personal journey with songs reflecting the mood and events of the time – lyrics no doubt inspired by Goffin and King’s own troubled relationship.

The music is enriched with a full musical arrangement which fills the stage; Patrick Hurley’s musical direction and blues-rock keyboards with Richard Anderson form an additional character on stage; there is rarely a scene without King’s most dedicated companion, the piano, in prominent view. Guitars and drums provide a peerless rockabilly-Motown soundscape, whilst Robert Greenwood’s blasting brass ensures every number is announced with a fanfare of feeling and furore.

Pocket-sized Bronté Barbé becomes Carole King in a stunning performance which captures the singer’s vocal signature and effusive character; delivering facets of charm and warmth as she grows from a vulnerable but determined girl-songwriter into a mother and full-blooded solo performer. There is a genuine chemistry between Barbé and Kane Oliver Parry as Gerry Goffin – a malcontent destined to receive minimal sympathy from the audience. He’s brilliantly realised by Parry in a subtle and balanced study of selfishness and mental illness.

Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves provide a brilliant counterpoint as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, providing many opportunities for comedic relief combined with a catalogue of additional hit numbers from the golden era of pop.

Offering more than 25 numbers in rapid succession, Beautiful could easily have become a jukebox musical reliant on song yet light on dramatic substance. Whilst some dialogue occasionally feels mechanical and a bridge to the next number, each scene provides an intriguing vignette into King’s life and is buttressed by music and lyrics which essentially retell the story from a first-person perspective. As such, it is King’s powerfully biographical music which elevates the show and takes it from being a ‘best of’ compilation into an inspirational and moving testimony of real-life events.

Beautiful is a hugely entertaining and uplifting anthology of timeless songs, providing a unique insight into the background and beginnings of one of the most important and impactful musicians of our time. Go see and feel the earth move under your feet.

Cast: Bronté Barbé, Kane Oliver Parry, Amy Ellen Richardson, Matthew Gonsalves, Carol Royle, Adam Howden, Leigh Lothian. Director: Marc Bruni Writers: Douglas McGrath Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Dates:  Tuesday 29th May to Saturday 2nd June.

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