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Beautiful, The Carole King Musical: New Wimbledon Theatre (and on tour)

June 6, 2018

(seen at the afternoon performance on 26th May 2018).

Oddly, a show I missed in the West End, for one reason or another. Still, now I know why it ran so long at the Aldwych Theatre and on Broadway. This is one classy jukebox show.

To get the negatives out of the way first: it’s sanitised, if the programme “timeline” is anything to go by. There are divorces and other tragedies, and the show stops with the release of “Tapestry” and performance at Carnegie Hall. Further, it got a trifle wearing just how often someone significant was “just passing by the office” or was a “friend of a friend.”

The good news is that the show is all about the music, and it’s an education into just who created all those solid gold songs I know and love today. Take your pick – “Oh Carol,” “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Locomotion,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” and many, many more by Ms King, her collaborators and friends.

True, you only get tasters of many, but this cast make them live and shine as if new.

As Carole King, Bronte Barbe is suitably 50s-girl ditzy, growing up fast in the music business but never really losing the innocent edge. Many vocals required, and all but one handled with style (a few odd notes on “One Fine Day” at the end of act 1 probably understandable tiredness).

Husband Gerry Goffin is given credible weakness by Kane Oliver Parry. A talent running out of control, too young to be tied down and unable to cope with success.

By contrast, neurotic fellow song writer Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves) is endearing, and finally “gets the girl” himself – his lyricist Cynthia Weil, played by Amy Ellen Richardson. Ms Richardson is easily the highlight of the show, gifted both vocally and as an actor, to a level explaining her lengthy list of credits – and likely to expand considerably in years to come.

There’s strong work too from the ensemble, Carol Royle is an amusing Genie Klein, while Adam Howden makes music mogul Donnie Kirshner both straight-talking and compassionate. Vocally, in various impersonations and sequences, Leigh Lothian, Khalid Daley, Paige Miller and Ben Morris notably catch the eye at one point or another.

Particularly remarkable is the presentation. Derek McLane’s touring scenery is West End standard, Alejo Vietti’s costumes, Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting and Brian Ronan’s sound design enhancing all. Marc Bruni’s direction is always sharp, keeping scenes moving as Josh Prince re-creates the choreography of the era.

If, like me, you are playing “catch up,” this is going to be the perfect chance to rectify the issue. A few miles up the road, at West End prices, the entire show would be completely justified. “Beautiful” more than lives up to its name, for sure.

5 stars.

Photo credit: Craig Sugden. Used by kind permission of the New Wimbledon Theatre press office.


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