The Carole King Musical

Reviewer's ranting

The hit jukebox musical Beautiful – The Carole King Musical has been adapted for a production in which all the actors and singers are also playing the instruments – there is no pit band, it all happens on stage before your eyes. I found it exceptionally entertaining. It was captivating from the opening moments.

One of the main pleasures came from the sheer commitment and energy of the cast. Anyone who knows the songs of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, or those of Barry Mann and Cynthias Weil, who knows about the era of 1650 Broadway, will understand about the musical pleasures to be had. The orchestrations and adaptations are engaging and at moments the show feels as if you are simply attending a very fine rock and roll concert.

However, there is also an interesting story being told – that of how Carole King teamed with Gerry Goffin and became a premiere song writer and then a major solo star. The focus of the show is the romance and creative partnership that starts with Goffin when he and Carole King were about 16. It includes the friendship they developed with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and their rise to prominence at 1650 Broadway with Donnie Kirshner’s support. One of the impressive aspects of the show is that the story telling about these lives in the 1960s and early 1970s is very clear and easy to follow. There is also a kind of extended epilogue that brings us up to date with some of what happened after King and Goffin divorced and she moved with her children to Los Angeles. The whole is framed by King’s famous Carnegie Hall concert.

The performances are impeccable. The whole cast works brilliantly as an ensemble both in the story telling and the enjoyable music making. Molly-Grace Cutler is impressive dramatically, pianistically, on guitar and vocally and carries the show. She is aided and abetted most obviously by Tom Milner, a fine actor, guitarist, percussionist and vocalist, as Gerry Goffin; Seren Sandham-Davies acting, singing and playing a mean trumpet and guitar and also wearing a blonde wig that is almost a character itself; and Jos Slovick (guitar, bass and keys) as Barry. But every single one of the cast stands out at some point or other, whether playing the Shirelles or the Righteous Brothers or the Drifters, or a friend trying to get Carole to sing solo, for example. Everyone has a turn in this one and every one gives a high quality performance dramatically and musically.

The costumes are evocative of the era we are dealing with, flares and all. The lighting is exceptionally noteworthy, always just right for the mood or the moment. I saw the show at the Oxford New Theatre and I felt that the sound engineering had a couple of wobbly moments, but by and large was excellent. Garry Robson, as Donnie Kirshner, who ran 1650 Broadway, was a standout personality.

I liked it that this was not a big, glamourous production with a pit band but that all the multi-talented performers had a fine, raw and very direct communication with the audience. I was impressed to see such a lot of young, energetic and wide-ranging talent on the stage. I think that this production is an impressive tribute to the creative people originally involved in the writing and performing of a fine legacy of songs and a sensitive telling of the story of Carole King and her group of artistic friends. The script had a lot of humour, a very clear development, and some genuine pathos. The songs were performed with terrific panache. It is a very enjoyable evening indeed.