With Tom and I still away, Amy dashed on down to the New Theatre in Oxford to see ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’.
Had you have asked me two nights ago who Carole King was, I probably would have replied with a very lame “didn’t they do a Glee episode about her songs?” [Jess: I was appalled when I read this!] Now, I could enthusiastically tell you the story of her life from 16-year-old girl to her 1971 Grammy award winning album, Tapestry.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical sets out to tell the tale of Carole King, the most successful female, American songwriter of the second half of the twentieth century. The show starts with Carole on stage at the Carnegie Hall in the 1970s, not quite believing so many people in the audience are there to see her despite the huge success of her first solo album. The show then rewinds 14 years, to when New Yorker Carole was 16 and already a songwriting talent. We watch as she meets the man who was not only her first love, but her songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin.
Unbeknownst to many, including me, King and Goffin went on to create some of the most memorable music of the 1960s – such as Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion (no it turns out that the Kylie version was not the original) [Jess: Oh Amy!] and Take Good Care Of My Baby. Hit after hit is wonderfully sung throughout the show – so far so jukebox musical.
The real success of the show lies with the portrayal of Carole, skilfully done by Bronté Barbé – a finalist on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Over The Rainbow talent search. Her voice is astonishing and her performance captivating. She was belting out some of the most famous songs ever written with confidence and conviction.
She was well supported by Grant McConvey as Goffin, who gave us a conflicted character who flitted between nasty and nice. King and Goffin’s songwriting competition, and best friends, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were played with charm by Matthew Gonsalves and Amy Ellen Richardson – adding some needed comedy to the show in darker times.
This was a slick production, with fluid set changes, some fabulous, glittering costumes which screamed 1960s, and a lively ensemble who took on some of the era’s most famous r’n’b and rock’n’roll groups.
My only slight issue with the show was the pace. Cramming 14 years worth of events, some completely life-altering for King, into two and a half hours made it feel a little too formulaic for real intensity at times.
Overall, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a show which portrays the interesting early-life of Carole King with joy, passion and humour. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be shocked at how many of the songs you recognise, and by the sheer talent of the ensemble cast.
You can catch Beautiful in Oxford until Saturday 12th May and across the country until the 23rd of June.