The award winning West End show Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, is currently on its first ever UK tour and is now showing at the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC), Cardiff.
The show tells the story of the earlier part of Carole King’s musical career and is injected throughout with her many musical hits, many of which, people may not associate with King herself. Who knew she wrote the music for the Locomotion?
Carole King, is played by Bronté Barbé, who you may recognise as a finalist in the hugely popular BBC show Over the Rainbow, which aired back in 2010. Since then she has had a number of theatre credits including Hairspray and the role of Fiona in Shrek the musical.
Barbé plays homage to the role with her quirky portrayal of the self-effacing but hugely talented Carole King. Not only does she have a voice worthy of the role but she has great comic timing with her blunt observations and self put downs. Throughout the show she manages to expose both her strength and vulnerability in equal measure, ensuring that from the very start you are firmly on her side.
Her singing talent has the opportunity to really shine through, and her finale solo rendition of Beautiful, the title song, is in itself worthy of a standing ovation, of which she was awarded with last night at the WMC.
The story starts with a glimpse of Carole King singing at Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1971, when she had just released her iconic Tapestry album, which reached number one and sold over 25 million copies.
With the knowledge that she has already made it, we are whisked back to her past in the 1960s, when she is a mere 16 year old, writing songs in her bedroom in Brooklyn and trying to convince her mum that she will make it as a song writer.
True to her word, and her strong will, she manages to convince Donnie Kirshner, played by Adam Howden, to buy her first song It Might As Well Rain Until September, which goes on to be sung by Bobby Vee.
But it is when she meets the troubled Gerry Goffin, played by Kane Oliver Parry, that her musical career really takes off. Whilst falling in love they also end up signing with Kirshner and his song writing business and churn out more than two dozen chart hits for numerous artists, including Some Kind of Wonderful, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and The Locomotion .
An early pregnancy ensues and a young marriage follows, resulting in Goffin feeling trapped and in need of feeling young and alive through affairs and staying out late while King stays at home preferring the quiet life and longing for some overdue family time.
King and Goffin may have been an awesome duo and hit song writing team, but a happy ever after love story they were not. Against the backdrop and gloom of their marriage and inevitable heartbreak, welcome comic relief and mushiness is provided by competitive song writing team and genuine friends Cynthia Well (Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves).
Beautiful is not like most musicals, so don’t go expecting to see huge showy dance routines and colourful choreography. It’s much more striped back and modest than that. Its almost like watching a gripping play but with a inordinate amount of classic tracks thrown in for good measure. The first act squeezes in no less than 17 songs all with a boppy sixties vibe.
The musical element is provided by the writing and composing of hits, usually around a piano, with them then breaking out into full rendition sung by the groups that made them famous. The ensemble do well to belt out the hits portraying groups including the Drifters, The Shirelles and the Righteous Brothers.
Whilst, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling sung by the talented Grant McCovney and Ben Morris was unquestionably one of the main highlights of the first half, the whole piano to group routine was in danger of becoming a little repetitive and so it was somewhat of a relief that the second half took a different approach.
It is during the second act that Carole at last realises that she can go it alone and that she has to trust in herself, in her talents and in her own voice. It is then that she starts to sing her own songs and her musical style takes a completely different direction with it being much more intimate than writing pop songs for other artists would allow.
Consequently the second half rewards you with some of her timeless classics It’s Too Late, You’ve Got a Friend, Natural Woman and the finale Beautiful, all sung with ease and gusto by Barbé. Seriously what a voice!
The whole charm and intimacy of Beautiful the Carole King Musical is as satisfying as snuggling down to watch a classic black and white movie on a Sunday afternoon. As amongst all the glitter of showbiz and romance, what stays with you long after the show is the heartwarming tale of an unassuming and talented girl, who in the end had to learn her biggest lesson (and one that so many girls need to learn) – that she is, and always was, Beautiful.
Beautiful is showing in The Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 4th November. For more information visit: www.wmc.org.uk
Tickets are priced £15.00 – £49. Concessions are available, depending on allocations and availability.
Children guidance: 8 years+ (no under 2s)
(All pictures provided courtesy of The Wales Millennium Centre)