The inspiring and remarkable rise to stardom of one of America’s greatest living singer songwriters is charted in the uplifting new musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, by Marc Bruni at the Aldwych Theatre
The show starts with a snapshot of King at her peak, giving a concert at Carnegie Hall, and then moves back in time to her teenage years in Brooklyn, when she is being cajoled by her fierce mother to give up her fantasies of making it as a musician and concentrate on being a teacher.
From there it proceeds chronologically as King meets her lyric-song writing fellow student, Geoff Goffin, and they become a prolific writing team get married and bond with friendly rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. By the time King has reached her twenties she had the husband of her dreams and a flourishing career, writing hits for the biggest acts in rock n roll from Aretha Franklin to The Monkees, The Drifters and The Shirelles. But it wasn’t until her personal life began to crack when humiliated by her husband’s infidelities, the pair split up, and King finally managed to find her true voice and become a star in her own right.
This is certainly a musical to treasure with a dazzling array of unforgettable songs, such as Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Take Good Care of My Baby, Locomotion, You’ve Got a Friend, One Fine Day, It’s Too Late, It Might as well Rain Until September, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman and the titular Beautiful. King’s album Tapestry, incidentally, has sold more than 25 million copies.
Marc Bruni’s staging is slick and witty. Douglas McGrath’s book skilfully highlights the factory-like efficiency of the music industry and Derek McLane’s sets reinforce the impression of a world in which musicians are treated as soulless hirelings. Furthermore I suspect the reason this show is so engaging is that it features well-defined characters with relatable human foibles.
At its heart is a stunning performance by newcomer Katie Brayben recreating King’s look, wholesome charm and vocals with uncanny accuracy and achieving a reassuring warmth as well as moments of raw passion – she is particularly moving when showing us a woman struggling to reconcile a career with a failing marriage. Strong support comes from Alan Morrissey as Gerry Goffin, her song writing partner and later philanderer husband, Glynis Barber as her overbearing mother and Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh who play fellow tunesmiths Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann with snappy verve.
In short then, this story of an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent makes for a marvellously entertaining evening in the theatre. Certainly something to sing about!
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Runs at The Aldwych Theatre until Saturday 3 June 2015.Last modified: April 7, 2021