The Carole King Musical
The main problem with this charming jukebox musical is that Carole doesn’t really have an exciting life, she marries young, has two lovely children, phenomenal success and an unhappy marriage before shedding the hubby, moving to the sun-drenched California and becoming and international singer songwriter sensation who defines an era. Not a lot of narrative struggle and at times the action on stage felt like a lost episode of Laverne & Shirley, including the accents. A musical needs the protagonist to journey, to struggle, a coming of age, but with Carol we see a well-loved singer having a pretty good time of it really, from early success, followed by hit after hit.
Long before she transformed into a chart-topping music legend, she was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Beautiful tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit song-writing team with her husband Gerry Goffin played tonight by Tom Milner who sung wonderfully, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil, payed by Seren Sandham-Davies with energetic dappy charm and Jos Slovick’s Barry Mann, his voice seriously impressive. I hadn’t realised that King and Goffin had written so many famous tracks, it’s an impressive back catalogue of catchy tunes.
It was fun and the all singing, all dancing, musical instrument playing young cast give us a fine engaging performance with some stand out singing and dancing from this well rounded ensemble.
It’s all cosy, comfy serving up a pleasant enough theatrical experience. I was disappointed that I didn’t cry, I adore Kings music and am a pushover for the right narrative nudge in a well written musical, embracing that feeling of welling up in the stalls, but tonight with all the right pieces in place I didn’t feel emotionally connected to anything happening on stage. Plenty of smiles though, from the happy, high energy cast who did their best to thread some silk & gold into the threadbare tapestry of the plot. The tensions in the central relationships on stage are played for laughs apart from the unhappiness at the heart of King & Goffins’ marriage, which are skimmed over, hinted at, or happen off stage. It’s so light touch as to barely register as action.
There’s no real beating heart to this musical, just plenty of music, sung, played and performed with charm and verve by the cast but I didn’t feel connected or moved at the Theatre Royal. The rest of the audience seemed enamoured by the show, giving the cast a standing ovation at the end, my companion enjoyed themselves showing particular admiration for the on point dancers and their sharp coordination.
Staging and lighting worked well in the confined spaces of the Theatre Royal, with the action taking place in a large off-Broadway musical studio of the early 60’s and 70’s which doubles up with cork board sliders and wheeled sofas for various spaces with a delightful ease. Strong lighting and possibly the most dry ice I’ve yet seen in a show, allowed the atmosphere to highlight the music. We followed the pretty spectacular growth of Kings career with the swift comings and goings of plenty of music from those times, presented in shortened vignettes for our amusement, the girl and boy groups costumed with chic apparel. There’s a lot of music stuffed into those two and a half hours, a little more action might have kept my attention.
Molly-Grace Cutler as Carole King is touching, she’s totally there, filled with charming vulnerable and buoyant hope, it’s a beguiling performance, hinting at the steeliness at Carols core and her tenacity to be heard on her own terms, and the second half focuses more on her music than the AWOL plot. Cutler gives us her version of King, the music is recognisable, arranged but it’s sung as Cutler, full of passion, it’s a lovely performance not a pastiche. We end at Carnegie Hall, with an empty emotional dénouement but the most charming of musical performances, and learn nothing of the decades of Kings achievements that lay in front of her.
I left unsatisfied, slipping away in the damp Brighton night with the audience on their feet clapping along to the cast funky encore, milking it. I adore Carole King, her music is evocative of a certain period of my life, here the music is presented with care and love, performed well and the cast are uniformly engaging, but though they really did try to make it, Somethin’ inside has died, And I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it, Oh, no, no, no, no
For more info or to book tickets see the Theatre Royal’s website here:
Until Sat 2nd Theatre Royal Brighton
You can read more about the national tour and full company details here