Beautiful: The Carole King Musical @ Palace Theatre
Beautiful opens with a curly haired woman; courageous and bright eyed, centre stage sat at a piano, about to perform at her Carnegie Hall concert in June 1971. This character is one of the most successful songwriters of the twentieth century; Miss Carole King. With huge hits such as ‘A Natural Woman’ and ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ under her belt, Carole King is legendary, and, as Beautiful reveals, she’s someone who overcame a feel battles to reach the celebrated stardom that she enjoys today.
If you take the time to see Beautiful you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of pop hits through the 50s, 60s and 70s. Hits which, as revealed in the musical, were the product of a bitter-sweet marriage between Carole King and her first husband Gerry Goffin. The pair met and married at the tender age of sixteen, with the world at their fingertips. The show tells the story of their marriage and careers through the progress of their music, style, and Billboard top 100 hit achievements.
The songs King and her first husband wrote together are revealed in fast-paced, dynamic performances by the acts that made them famous such as The Drifters and The Shirelles. Each song created an excited buzz in the room and a warm sense of pride for the success of this young woman with so much spirit and drive.
We meet characters such as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, another couple who were writing hits at the same time as King and Goffin, and would soon to become their best friends. The competitive but loving relationship between the four is revealed through their work, with the show allowing for some of Mann and Weil’s hits, such as ‘On Broadway’ and ‘Up’ to be performed.
The villain of the Musical is Gerry, with the pairs tumultuous relationship being the basis of a lot of the ups and downs within the story-line. The audience become invested in the protection of King and hope for her to break away from the marriage and come into her own. When she finally finds it in herself to tell to get rid of Gerry, I think everyone in the room agreed with the response of one old lady in the audience who exclaimed ‘yes girl!’, much to everyone, including the performer’s, amusement. There followed the best performances of the night; ‘A Natural Woman’ and ‘It’s Too Late.’ It was at this moment where the audience really saw King’s transition from a song-writer to a star.
Though Bronte Barbe’s heavy Brooklyn accent for Carole King seemed almost brassy and brash when singing early on in the play, it became smoother when the show explored the Tapestry album years. What I found strange about this element of the play was that in recorded songs by the real Carole King there is hardly a trace of the accent at all. Yet, I suppose for continuity of the role, this addition was felt to be appropriate.
If anything ‘Beautiful’ is worth a watch just for the musical history of the play. It is interesting to be able to follow the evolution of trends between the decades; from the music to the clothes and hair. This served nicely as a metaphor for the growth of King’s character. When she finally starts becoming the woman we all know and admire she really does let her hair down; thus, her natural curls take over and she finds her own real spirit and independence in the music industry.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is running at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until the 6th January. Make sure you find some time to hear about Carole’s story, and let it inspire you to really believe in yourself for this new year.