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Waterfront Festival

Theatre Review: Beautiful

20 October 17 words: Bea Udeh

Can a musical naturally stack up to it's historical beauty?

Beautiful the Carole King Musical

Beautiful - The Carole King musical

“I am black,” as affirmed by one of the singers from the Shirelles, one of the many groups that Carole King composed for in the 60's with her first husband Gerry Goffin. I mean, who knew? I certainly didn't appreciate the cultural reach and breadth of work that Carole King produced. Yet my friends Honey, Michelle and John did – though they do possess a technical understanding of music history. I can say that I am familiar with many of Carole's songs, yet this is ONLY due to me engaging with this beautiful musical this week.

The story of Carole King is very familiar to people of a certain age, as confirmed by the audience at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall and I'm in my mid-40's. Until I saw this musical, I have to admit that I was completely oblivious, yet I was to be totally be-dazzled by the biopic music-telling in this production. At the start, I felt I was being lured into a false sense of security with 16 year-old Carole (LEIGH LOTHIAN) composing pop songs and a disapproving Ma. Then she meets her good looking beau, Gerry Goffin (KANE OLIVER PARRY), a songwriter, and they seem to begin a picket fence life, making sweet music together. As a couple they wrote many hits for artists including: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow by the Shirelles (1960), Take Good Care of My Baby by Bobby Bee (1961) and The Locomotion by Little Eva (1962).

The Book (DOUGLAS McGRATH) was very tightly written giving each scene fluidity as each song breathed and bounced providing me with many chances to dance in my seat with extravagant hands, as well guffaw at the well placed comedic lines that lifted the story just that bit higher. This musical covered everything, from juggling being a working parent, to the inner workings of a music production company of the era, to diverse inclusivity in the workforce, to mental health in (married) men in their 30's and 40's. Also, the relationship with Bobby Darren (MATTHEW GONSALVES) and Cynthia Weil (EMMA LUCIA) gave a depth to the music in the production including their #9 Billboard hit, On Broadway by The Drifters 1963.

There was a short pause in the first scene just before Cynthia came into the 'picture' properly. This is the wonder of live performance and the production continued on neatly. Very insightful and clever themes used in the set to carry off the 60's and 70's references to the music and television industry and the many, many bright and glitzy costumes worn by the singing groups and the musicians were totally believable. The actors who payed the Drifters were amazing.

Overall, the bright colours of this production hide the lesser known darker elements of Carole's life, obviously not for public or musical production consumption. Yet, when you go and see this production, take a friend who is 20-30 years younger as they will find inspiration in this show. And I hope that as more people of colour get to find out about the historical context behind much of the beautiful music in this production that they already dance to or music-sample, then they will appreciate the composer and singer, Carole King.

Beautiful –The Carole King Musical plays at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall from Tues 17 Oct to Sat 21 October 2017.

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