Beautiful- The Carole King Musical
Curve Theatre Leicester
One of the delights of local theatre is that moment where you walk into the auditorium and gasp, ever so slightly, at what awaits you on the stage. You may know the space well, but that moment of expectation, joy, appreciation and excitement is one that this reviewer will never tire of. The bareness of the Beautiful stage, with the lighting rig on full show and backstage partially visible perfectly sets the scene for what the programme promises to be a “stripped back” and “unplugged” adaptation of the Tony Award winning musical. The set design by Frankie Bradshaw is perfect for our Curve stage, affectionately known as the “inside out theatre”. Directed by Nikolai Foster, Beautiful is raw – sometimes painful, sometimes joyful but always on point.
Beautiful tells the story of Carole King and the story behind her 1971, multi-award winning album, Tapestry which remained the best-selling album by a female artist for a quarter of a century. King’s back catalogue is astounding with jaunty dance tunes, heart-wrenching ballads and quirky pop songs – it’s the perfect soundtrack for a jukebox musical. The bareness of the stage contrasts well with the richness of the musical numbers (orchestrated by Steve Sidwell), which are played live by the extraordinarily talented group of actor-musicians under the direction of Musical Director Dan le Cruz. This production is a toe tapping, face smiling, shoulder shimmying, finger clicking, head bopping ode to rock and roll.
Molly-Grace Cutler plays our protagonist, Carole King, with such a naïve vulnerability that the audience is completely behind her character through the entirety of the play. From her first entrance onto the stage, Cutler is powerful, commanding the stage. The opening number “So Far Away” allows Cutler to immediately demonstrate warmth, modesty and a singing voice that is pure and brimming with emotion. These are emotional songs, written by King and former husband Gerry Goffin, in parallel with their own life events – the sentiment behind every word is clear in every song performed by Cutler. Her chemistry with the rest of the cast is so natural, especially Tom Milner who plays Geoff Goffin, and Seren Sandham Davis who plays Cynthia Weil. The raucous applause at the end of the production for Cutler’s solo bow is well deserved. She is the very heart of this production.
As Geoff Goffin, former husband to Carole King, Tom Milner is perfectly cast. A talented guitarist with a soulful singing voice (this reviewer still remembers his amazing performance as Johnny in American Idiot), he portrays the troubled creative, never quite satisfied, always wanting more character trope with sincerity and sensitivity. Never quite the ultimate “bad guy” in this reviewer’s eyes (although the audience would beg to differ given the boos when he appeared on stage in Act 2), Goffin suffers for his art and can never be happy although there are moments of real tenderness between Milner and Cutler. In these moments, the two can be surrounded by others, but it seems they are the only characters on stage as they look deep into each other’s eyes, appreciating each other. The harmony on “Some Kind of Wonderful” is unexpected and breath-taking.
In fact, the chemistry between both main couples is stunning. Sandham Davis (Cynthia Weil) and Jos Slovick (Barry) form an unlikely duo as the main competitors to the King/Goffin songwriting brilliance. Sandham Davis is wonderful as the perky, determined Cynthia who increasingly shows her vulnerable side as she lets her barriers down…and she has a wardrobe to die for! Slovick portrays more of a comic role and his deadpan delivery is fantastic. His character has more depth than the audience is initially led to believe and he really brings a lightness to some of the more painful scenes. You don’t get the heartfelt songs of King and Goffin without love and pain and everything in between, and these emotions are delicately handled in this production. The supportive and caring relationship between Carole and Cynthia is inspiring and a strong message about female solidarity in a male dominated area.
Surrounding the life story of Carole King is a selection of her tremendous back catalogue with songs such as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, “One Fine Day” and “Up on the Roof”, and this reviewer was thrilled to see the likes of The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva and The Righteous Brothers take the stage. Everything here, from the lighting (Ben Cracknell) to the costumes (Edd Lindley) comes together in a nostalgic burst of colour, glitter and entertainment.
This production is pure and passionate – it is clear that every performer loves being part of this extravaganza and their energy is infectious. In a show such as this, where the music is so well known, it could overtake the story, but in this show it doesn’t. Geoff Goffin says “until words matter, Rock and Roll won’t” and here, the story of the music is just as important as the composition and the lyrics. Thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation at the end, Beautiful, really is…well…a beautiful portrayal, and one that this reviewer is eager to enjoy again and again.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical will be delighting audiences on Curve stage until Saturday 12 March.