Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh enjoys a truly spectacular Christmas treat at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 31st December 2017
Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical at the Birmingham Hippodrome
Culture editor Olivia Boyce reviews Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, a wonderful production filled with the legendary singer/songwriter's music.
Winner of multiple Tony and Olivier awards, and even a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album, audiences at the Hippodrome this week will get their chance to feel the earth move as Beautiful – The Carole King Musical arrives in style.
Beautiful tells the story of legendary singer/songwriter Carole King’s entry into the music business, from her first taste of writing success at the age of 16, until the now iconic performance at Carnegie Hall that solidified her place amongst the industries great figures. The audience witnesses her transformation from a skilled young talent who signs for music impresario Donnie Kirshner, to the multi-Grammy award winning artist who closes the show with a rendition of the titular ‘Beautiful’, in the space of a wonderfully musical two and a half hours.
The songs featured within of course feature many of King’s most beloved hits, but audiences are also treated to an assortment of songs from her early career, as well as performances of songs by other writers who were creating alongside her. The first act features songs such as ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’, ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ and ‘The Locomotion’, all earlier hits of King’s, co-written with then-husband Gerry Goffin, that were first performed by other artists including the Drifters and Little Eva.
“It is a treat of music for all, and seeing audience members react to each of the songs is a wonderful thing to witness
Also featured are songs by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, King’s song-writing friends with whom she shares a friendly rivalry, with hits including ‘On Broadway’, ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ and a clever reworking of ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ making an appearance, much to the audience’s delight. It is a treat of music for all, and seeing audience members react to each of the songs is a wonderful thing to witness.
The staging is slick, scenes changing rapidly with each song almost effortlessly. Derek McLane’s scenic design, Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design, and Brian Ronan’s vital sound design come together in a tour production that sacrifices very little from the Broadway or West End production in its scope.
The cast give wonderful performances as those involved in King’s life, a task that can be tricky when such figures are real and well-known people. Kane Oliver Parry plays Gerry Goffin, King’s writing partner, with whom she collaborates for much of her early career, and to whom she was married for several years. Parry is well cast, singing the songs with ease and emotion, and proves to be likeable as Goffin, even as his character struggles with issues that impact heavily on King.
Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves make for a formidable pair as King’s songwriting friends, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Richardson lends a comic precision and powerful voice to Weil, portraying her as a wise-cracking, no-nonsense lyricist who has the audience applauding at every song, and laughing at often sarcastic one-liners in equal measure. Her partner, both creative and romantically, is played by Gonsalves perfectly. From his early introduction as a hypochondriac with a talent for writing melodies, to a particular scene involving a reconciliation with Weil that has both humour and emotive poignancy, Gonsalves’ Barry Mann is delightful.
The members of the ensemble who appear as various performers are a joyous group of talented performers who bring to life some of the earliest performances of the music of the four songwriters. Recreating performances by Little Eva, The Drifters and many others, they have audience members moving along appreciatively, often surprised by a song they may not have realised was written by King or her contemporaries.
“Barbé’s performance is joyous, vocally excellent throughout as she gives renditions of King’s iconic music
However, the night truly belongs to two figures: Bronté Barbé and the iconic Carol King herself. Barbé’s performance is joyous, vocally excellent throughout as she gives renditions of King’s iconic music, accompanied by everything from one piano to a whole orchestra. She lives King’s heartbreaks, delights and quiet confidence before our eyes, and the moment she is shown recording ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman’, nerves on show but giving way to a commanding performance, is spine-tinglingly good. King’s may be difficult shoes to fill, but Barbé plays her wonderfully.
Of course, what would the night be without the joyous music of Carole King. The show closes with a number or two from Tapestry, the award-winning 1971 album that remained in the US charts for over six years. As Barbé takes to the stage, sits at the piano, and sings ‘Beautiful’, the moment is electric, a rendition that is absolutely, thrillingly brilliant. It’s one of so very many songs throughout the night like this, and a testament to the genius of King’s and her contemporaries writing prowess.
Whether you’re a Carole King fan, or simply looking to find an enjoyable evening of music at the theatre, then ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ in Beautiful.
Beautiful plays at the Hippodrome until Saturday the 11th of November. It continues on its tour, and will return to the Hippodrome for a second engagement in January 2018. More information can be found here.