Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – fifteen actor-musicians create electric musical theatre (Grand Opera House until Saturday 1 October)

The on-stage musical talent and live performance throughout Beautiful: The Carole King Musical make it stand out from other jukebox musicals. Two hours of live music, brought to life by the cast of fifteen actor-musicians, taking in hits that you’ve heard covered by numerous artists and reality music show auditionees.

Douglas McGrath’s book traces the life of the titular artist from a budding sixteen-year-old songwriter through her career churning out hits for the big musical acts of the 1960s and ultimately to finding success in the 1970s recording and performing her own material. In parallel, we see how her more discordant marriage to lyricist Gerry Goffin impacted her life and work.

Aficionados who more fulsomely appreciate the reach, influence and critical acclaim of Carole King’s contribution to her industry over six decades will realise that this jukebox musical necessarily simplifies and contracts events, concentrating on a 13-year period, and ignoring her trailblazing role as a successful female songwriter in a very male industry.

Frankie Bradshaw’s stripped-back set exposes the brickwork of the Grand Opera House stage (and at times the cold draught that blows in from Glengall Street). Plywood walls, a drum booth and stacked flight cases immediately create the sense that you’re looking into a recording studio. Lighting bars fly up and down with their own beautiful choreography in Ben Cracknell’s extensive and truly beautiful light design.

Molly-Grace Cutler puts in an amazing performance, adapting her character’s physical mannerisms, playing the piano live during the majority of numbers, and working through the changing emotions and ambitions of King. Her distinctive voice pays homage to King’s technique without feeling forced or gimmicky. She pulls off what is easily the most outstanding performance of the shows that have toured through Belfast so far this year. Opposite her, Tom Milner never relinquishes Goffin’s slightly self-centred attitude that ultimately exposes his demons. Cutler and Milner’s duets are electric.

The partnership of fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann adds another dimension to the story, with the ballsy Seren Sandham-Davies and slick Jos Slovick demonstrating the competitive songwriting industry and the close friendships that formed under the watchful eye of producer/publisher Donnie Kirshner (played with by Garry Robson). The renditions of You’ve Got a Friend is electric; A Natural Woman is a celebratory anthem, even if King’s true legacy isn’t spelt out in the show.   

Nikolai Foster’s direction energises the entire ensemble who look like they’re having a ball on stage. There’s an infectious buzz as yet another King/Goffin demo morphs into a full performance by The Shirelles or The Drifters.

Special mention to Dan-de-Cruz who directs much of the music from his riser at one side of the stage before a glorious performance as one of the Righteous Brothers singing You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. And Amena El-Kindy who bursts on stage to dance in roller-skates while singing The Locomotion, which King/Goffin ended up writing for their babysitter Little Eva!

This outstanding example of musical theatre makes something that is technically very complicated look easy. The sound mix is flawless (so unusual for the first night in a new venue). There are no visible cables. No mic dropouts. No big banks of stage monitors. No feedback. No delays while guitars are retuned (though look carefully and you’ll spot it happening while you’re distracted by action elsewhere on the set). It’s like watching a music camp full of multi-skilled performers at their creative peak, swapping instruments between songs, dancing while playing. If there was a UK Tour cast album on sale at the door, it would make a fortune!

Whether you think you’re a fan of Carole King’s music or not, you’re nearly guaranteed to be able to hum along with her back catalogue of hits. The live music alone is enough to cancel your other plans and get down to the Grand Opera House to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical before the flight cases and lighting array are wheeled back into the trucks on Saturday evening and head to Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fab show at GOH thanks