★★★★ | Beautiful

Will you Still Love me tomorrow. I feel the Earth Move. You’ve got a Friend. These are just a few songs written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin that are included in the new West End Show Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.

While Carole King might not be known to the younger generation, anyone 50 and older know her, and her music, very well. In the 1960s she, along with her husband Goffin, wrote dozens and dozens of hit songs including The Locomotion, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, and Up on The Roof. Beautiful tells the story of King’s life, how when she was a young girl and sold her first song to music producer Don Kirshner, to meeting her songwriting partner, and partner in life, Gerry Goffin, to being a single mother as well as a very very successful singer and songwriter. In Beautiful, King is played by the energetic Katie Brayben, from the piano playing right down to the curly hair, the resemblance is very good.

Beautiful covers King’s life from age 16 to the age of 29, when she’s at Carnegie Hall performing So Far Away – a hit single from her mega-selling and multiple grammy winning album Tapestry. It’s just Brayben and the piano on stage. The show then goes back in time, the time when teenager King (Brayben) is at home in Brooklyn wanting to go into Manhattan to sell songs to Kirshner, but her mom tells her that she’s not going into Manhattan all by herself. When King does get to Kirshner’s (played by Gary Trainor) office, she meets people there who will be the key players in her life. She meets Cynthia Weil (Lorna Want) and Barry Mann (Ian McIntosh), a songwriting couple, but more importantly she meets Goffin (Alan Morrissey). They start a romance, but King gets pregnant so her and Goffin (played by Alan Morrissey) get married. He loves her, and they literally make beautiful mussic together – they are at their best when writing songs, and they write some of the biggest hits of the 1960s. But over time Goffin starts to feel like he’s being tied down and wants to take advantage of their new celebrity status, while King wants them to go home at the end of each day and spend time as a family. It’s a stressful situation for King, and it doesn’t help that Goffin is having mental problems to go along with his infidelity. And this is the plot of Beautiful – the relationship between King and Goffin and their very close friendship with Weil and Mann.

But in between this storytelling we get great musical performances by the ensemble in the show – the actors who play the musicians that King and Goffin write songs for. And this is when Beautiful comes alive. The ensemble really lets it rip, and brings life and colour to the show when they perform songs such as 1650 Broadway Melody, Some Kind of Wonderful and On Broadway, among others.

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Beautiful is a female singer, songwriter, mother, daughter, an American, and British-born Brayben does a fine job in portraying King. Recently seen in American Psycho, Brayben can sing and act, and can hit all the notes, and like King, Brayben writes her own music. Her hairstyle changes throughout the course of the show, most of these styles, however, make her look much older than the character she is playing.

Morrissey is fine as Goffin, excited about their love yet still not sure that’s he’s happy or not in their relationship. Want and McIntosh are excellent as their best friends, and even more so when they provide emotional support after King’s breakup of her marriage. The staging of the show is fine, moving from living rooms to recording studios to Kirshner’s offices – but it’s Peter Kaczorowski‘s lighting that literally and figuratively lights up the stage. If only the book of the show was as good. By Douglas McGrath, the book is very mundane and not very dramatic – sure we care about King’s life but give us more of the music and razzle-dazzle and less of their bickering and conversations.It’s a musical that should be a musical, yet Beautiful plays more like a drama show with bits of music thrown in. But the show redeems itself when near the end, Brayben (as King) and the ensemble bring down the house with the song ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” – it’s a moment when you realize that King really is the greatest female songwriter of all time.

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Beautiful The Carole King Musical plays at the Aldwych Theatre,  until 5th August 2017

About the author: Tim Baros
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.