Beautiful The Carole King Musical
American comedian Charlie Fleischer is credited with the line: “If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.”
Well I was there and everything I had forgotten came flooding back big time on Wednesday night while watching The Carole King Musical Beautiful at the Bristol Hippodrome.
We first meet Ms King in1971, seated at a grand piano in Carnegie Hall and then go on a journey through the song book of her brilliant career.
I knew all the songs and most of the lyrics and surprisingly it made me tingle, shudder and sometimes tearful such was the impact of performance by a stellar cast.
Carole King is (arguably) a feminist icon and certainly revered by the Women’s Movement but her name and work seem to have escaped some of the men sitting alongside me in the stalls.
Her (perceived) lack of sex appeal – without the body of a goddess and dress sense of a siren - Carole King wasn’t at the time on many men’s desire horizon.
Perhaps the song (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman epitomises her persona?
But if the males hadn’t heard of Ms King they certainly had heard of her words and music which have been sung and covered over the years by artists of all genres including The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits.
The Loco-Motion, first released in 1962 by Little Eva (the late Eva Narcissus Boyd), was also recorded in the 1980s by Australian singer Kylie Minogue who sang it at the closing ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in August 2014.
Living in Uxbridge in 1962 Ted (my boyfriend for the day) and I had bunked off school to go to the fairground and it was here on the amply named dodgem cars I first heard The Loco-Motion which with other Carole King numbers because my own personal song book.
According to her biographer James Perone, singer-songwriter Carole King, ‘almost single-handedly opened the doors of popular music songwriting to women’.
She also became the first female artist in American popular music in complete control of her own work.
With 500 copyrighted songs King’s greatest success was the release of the 1970s album Tapestry, which remained on the charts for 302 weeks including 15 consecutive weeks at No 1.
This musical tells the story of how Carole King, aged 16, went from a precocious Jewish girl living in New York to a young mum hitched to a philandering but equally talented husband, the late Geoff Goffin.
We learn of her dream of owning a house in the suburbs of New Jersey by earning a living from writing songs – her single mother meanwhile harboured an ambition that her daughter would become a teacher like herself.
Bronté Barbé who was a finalist in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2010 BBC1 television series Over The Rainbow sang and spoke eloquently in a Brooklyn drawl wearing shapeless clothes while best friend and rival Amy Ellen Richardson as songwriter Cynthia Weil gets to play the blonde sex bomb.
The couples strip poker game on a one-off Vermont holiday dealt the final blow to the King/Goffin marriage and called a temporary halt to the romance between Cynthia’s partnership with hypochondriac Barry Mann played by Matthew Gonsalves.
King’s mother Genie Klein (Carol Royle) and Adam Howden as music publisher and producer Donnie Kirshner are also admirable in their roles.
While Mr Kirshner certainly had an ear for music his favourite sound was a repetitive Be-Bop!
There are some funny one-liners and the synchronised swing movements of the various bands dressed in slick suits or sparkly gowns are oh so of the time that they made you smile too.
British designer Mary Quant’s heads the inspiration for costume design with the diagonally divided dresses and skintight pants but for the finale Ms King was the floral hippie queen with wild long curly hair and maxi frock.
Out of the 26 numbers my favourite was the classical It’s Too Late Now although perhaps it should have been Oh Carole!
The set involves a lot of going in and out of doors and the main prop is a grand piano although an upright also puts in an appearance with a backdrop of racks of musical instruments.
In King’s 2012 memoir she writes ‘I wasn’t in the same league vocally as Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, or Barbara Streisand (whom I considered ‘real singers’), but I knew how to convey the mood and emotion of a song with an honest, straight-from-the-heart interpretation’.
Well those on stage this week go one better because they did it all – vocally amazing and passionate despite the audience being a little reserved and not standing to bop until the very last number.
Postscript: Carole King is still alive and kickin’ aged 76. She has been married four times and is a politically active democrat who campaigns on environmental issues. The mother of four she lives in Idaho and has long term friendship with musician James Taylor, a frequent collaborator. King marched in the 2017 Women's March in Stanley, Idaho, carrying a sign that said ‘One Small Voice’.
Bronté stars in Beautiful
PREVIEW: Showing her brilliant versatility one moment Bronté Barbé is up for the role of Dorothy in Over The Rainbow and the next she is touring the country as Princess Fiona in Shrek the musical.
Now the Cheshire-born star has landed the lead in Beautiful - the Carole King Musical.
It was seven years ago when Bronté was a finalist in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BBC1 television series Over The Rainbow and since then she has appeared on stage in both London’s West End and around the UK.
Sporting bubble gum pink hair she most recently was treading the boards in The Wild Party at The Other Palace.
In the past Bronté has described herself as 'small, over-excited, wacky, a perfectionist, determined, hardworking, loyal, honest and friendly' and revealed she learned to speak fluent Welsh in eight weeks when she was aged seven!
Bronté will be joined by Kane Oliver Parry as King’s husband and song-writing partner Gerry Goffin, Amy Ellen Richardson as song-writer Cynthia Weil, Matthew Gonsalves as song-writer Barry Mann, Carol Royle as King’s mother Genie Klein and Adam Howden as music publisher and producer Donnie Kirshner in the award-winning musical.
Beautiful - the Carole King Musical premiere on Broadway in January 2014 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
The London production ended its triumphant two and a half year run at the Aldwych this summer.
West End star Kane Oliver Parry has appeared in Carousel and Sweeney Todd at London’s Coliseum and his credits include Wicked, Urinetown, The Light Princess at the National Theatre and the International tour of We Will Rock You.
The cast is completed by Merryl Ansah, Lauren Byrne, Matt Campbell, Khalid Daley, Jessica Joslin, Esme Laudat, Emma Lucia, Grant McConvey, Jacob McIntosh, Paige Miller, Matt Mills, Simeon Montague, Ben Morris, David O’Mahony and Saran Webb.
Beautiful - the Carole King Musical tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history.
Along the way, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation, including one of the best-selling albums of all time, Tapestry, and countless classics such as (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, Take Good Care Of My Baby, You’ve Got A Friend, So Far Away, It Might as Well Rain Until September, Up On The Roof and The Locomotion.
The show also includes the Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann hit songs You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling, On Broadway and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.
The show plays the Bristol Hippodrome from Tuesday to Saturday, April 3-7, 2018.
To book online tickets from £18 click HERE.