Friday 4 March 2022

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical

Curve, Leicester

3rd March 2022


Sometimes, it goes the way you want, and sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes, when it doesn't, you find something beautiful


Singer-Songwriter Carole King delivers the above line at the top of the show sat at a piano in her 1971 concert at Carnegie Hall. The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2014, then goes back to chart her early song-writing days, relationship with Gerry Goffin, and friendship with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. We see King’s journey, from turning out hits at 1650 Broadway for the biggest household names to how she broke the mould of what a star can be. Nikolai Foster’s new production, which opened last night just weeks after King’s 80th birthday, shows that cultural shift with √©lan. Particularly impressive is that this is an actor-musician production which adds an extra level of authenticity and playfulness.


In the first act, we see King and Goffin writing songs for the likes of The Shirelles and The Drifters, and their friendly competition with Weil and Mann to write for those big artists. There’s so much joy in witnessing the magic-like quality of the song-writing process: King’s knack for melody with Goffin’s meaningful yet simple lyrics; the frustration of matching the right song with the right artist; their sleepless drive to make music. There’s a series of impressive set pieces including Weil and Mann’s ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’’ being sung by The Righteous Brothers while Weil and Mann are jamming behind them on their sofa, and ‘The Locomotion’ performed on roller skates.


Although it’s the songs which stand out, Douglas McGrath’s book is first-class. It’s bubbly, full of observational one-liners and perfectly captures the New York vibe like a Neil Simon comedy. A particularly favourite line was when Mann likens moving in with Weil to his continuing audition for marriage. McGrath also cleverly builds in references to the cat and window seat from her album cover for Tapestry to show how King wanted to move away from the glitz and glamour of the New York scene. This is all played out on Frankie Bradshaw’s handsome recording studio set, with a proscenium arch made up of acoustic wall panels and everything stamped with [Property of 1650 Broadway]. Her design takes us from the studio’s functional hub of creativity to glitzy TV studios, Brooklyn apartments and Carnegie Hall. It marries well with Ben Cracknell’s lighting design – I especially enjoyed the effect of the plane landing in Los Angeles to mark that pivotal moment in King’s creative and personal life.


Molly-Grace Cutler not only captures the look and iconic raspy voice of Carole King, she encapsulates her spirit, humour and raw talent. But Foster’s production allows everyone to shine. Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick are a brilliant pairing as Cynthia and Barry: Cynthia’s self-confidence against Barry’s Woody Allen-esque awkwardness are played beautifully. Tom Milner adds depth with his portrayal of Gerry Goffin, capturing his creative frustrations and difficulties. Garry Robson also provides great support as the producer Donnie Kirshner.


It struck me that, if Dimension Records was a hit factory for music in the 60s, Curve could well be the theatrical equivalent of today. Beautiful is full of character, heart and great songs. It’s a sheer delight.


Beautiful plays at Curve, Leicester, until 12th March and then tours. It is a co-production between Curve, Theatre Royal Bath and Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre. For further information please visit https://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/beautiful-the-carole-king-musical/


Molly-Grace Cutler and Tom Milner in Beautiful - The Carole King Musical - Photography by Ellie Kurttz