Starring: Katie Brayben, Alan Morrissey, Lorna Want, Ian McIntosh, Glynis Barber, Gary Trainor.
Synopsis: The story of Carole King’s rise from writer of some of the world’s greatest songs, to an established artist in her own right
The jukebox musical is something I usually detest. Although it reached a peak with MOULIN ROUGE nearly 15 years ago, now we have countless musicals based on songs from a single artist. Queen, The Kinks, Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, and Abba are just some of the groups that have seen their songs strung together, and many songs being forced into non-related situations. Mamma Mia was the absolute worst of all, revelling in the fact that fans would shell out money for a greatest hits compilation of covers by lesser talented individuals.
However, it must also be acknowledged that although these musicals are taking up space that could be occupied by original shows, or musicals that deserve to be on stage, they are a bit of a win win situation for all. The shows make a lot of money, don’t require new songs, the fans adore them, and it brings the songs to younger or newer audiences. Thankfully Beautiful: The Carole King Musical does things better in many ways, but ultimately falls flat too.
Rather than shoehorn in a plot that connects the dots, the film is based on the life and career of Carole King (Brayben), and every song is introduced as her and her husband/lyricist Gerry Goffin (Morrissey) write them. This works well at first, but soon every musical number has the same set-up, Carole and Gerry write it, try it out on the piano, perform it to record producer Donnie Kirshner (Trainor), and then it moulds into the hit performed by the original artist whether that be The Shirelles, The Drifters, or so forth. It becomes very samey quite quickly, and with a whole stage to use, the majority of the songs are just performed sat around a piano.
Of course these songs are all amazing and Brayben is incredible. Her voice may not have the gritty unpolished tone of Carole King, but it certainly has the power to do (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Will You Love Me Tomorrow justice. Her acting and comedic timing is also impressive, with one emotional outburst creating the raw awkwardness and tension that theatre is made for. The supporting cast are also a delight, all of them hitting their cues and notes perfectly. Trainor is a wonderful, fast talking Kirshner, while Morrissey portrays the conflict in the womanising Goffin.
Speaking of conflict though, that’s pretty much all there is and it isn’t a lot. Carole King seems to never struggle, with songs coming naturally and being bought in a flash. Even when the competition of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil is introduced, they immediately become friends and everything is lovely and special. It may well have happened this way, but it also means that the whole show feels slightly vanilla. Speaking of Mann and Weil, this does allow for the show to branch out into many more hits than just the ones offered by King’s back catalogue.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical will be fantastic for fans, and those that prefer to hear songs they know. The costumes are well designed, the ensemble particularly diverse, and a lot of the humour works brilliantly. Although the number of times we get jokes based on our knowledge; wanting to call On Broadway another title, is just too easy. A decent night out, but a final press night exclusive of Carole King, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil showing up to sing You’ve Got A Friend overshadowed the show. But even without that, it was a jukebox musical that made me want to go home and listen to the originals, rather than get lost in the experience of new renditions.
[usr=3]Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is currently showing at The Aldwych Theatre until 24th October.