Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Like a rainbow on a rainy day, Beautiful – now on at the Bristol Hippodrome – delights with the music of extraordinary songwriting talent Carole King.
Based on the life and early career of legendary singer-song writer Carole King, Beautiful is a Tony Award-winning jukebox musical that’s sure to lift the spirits.
We meet King (born Klein) as a prodigious song-writing teen in Brooklyn, where she gets together with writing and romantic partner Gerry Goffin while still in college. Marc Bruni directs proceedings at a zippy pace, and before you know it the pair are married parents with an office in Broadway’s Brill Building, hit factory of the 50s and 60s.
And boy do the hits come thick-and-fast. The sheer quantity of classic pop songs that King had a hand in is a revelation – and so many of them produce a contented sigh of recognition in the first couple of bars. The Loco-motion (sung by Little Eva – King’s nanny!) and Up on the Roof for the Drifters among many, many others made her one of the most successful songwriters of her generation.
A self-confessed “square”, King is played with a restrained passion and sensitivity by Daisy Wood-Davis. She’s a conventional character with more yearning for suburban domesticity than for the rock n’ roll lifestyle her husband Gerry has his wandering eye on. The pair are nicely balanced by neighbouring song-writing couple and friendly rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Weil (Carly Cook) provides a sexy sass that both delights the audience and highlights King’s mousiness.
It’s the women who shine here (Weil is also a talented writer, penning On Broadway). They come close to collaborating, and you can’t help but wonder what pop gold would have been the result.
By 1971, with her performance of landmark solo album Tapestry at Carnegie Hall, King finally lets her hair down, both literally and metaphorically. There is genuine emotion as the release of pent-up pain coincides with her courageously claiming performance of her own material. All credit to Wood-Davis for pulling this off, and by doing so raising the show above the level of pop compilation.
The whole production is so sweetly easy on the eye (and ears) – from the well-pitched costume and vintage choreography to the expertly performed songs. It’s refreshing to see a show that is just a straight-forwardly good night out. There’s nothing to scare the horses here, what a delightful relief.
Beautiful is on at the Bristol Hippodrome until Sat 29 Feb.
Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol BS1 4UZ. Buy tickets
Words Rosie Meachin. Photos Helen Maybanks.