Beautiful: The Carole King Story – Festival Theatre

Book by Douglas McGrath

Words and Music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Providing the soundtrack of a generation, singer and songwriter Carole King forged her path away from the expectations set upon her from an earlier age. King’s life laid bare for the world to see, Beautiful the Carole King Musical uplifts the traditional biopic musical theatre piece away from its Jukebox comedic staples and into a touching production that seeks not the thrill and trivialities but instead seeks to honour the legacy of Carole King and the lyricists and songwriters she met along the way.

Transcending the traditional dynamics of performance; Molly-Grace Cutler channels King to their fullest – well beyond simply the voice (both performative and musically) and into the physicality of the role, straightening up and broadening her shoulders as the production moves forward, King develops from the young girl who married early, to the woman in charge of her autonomy and destiny. And while it’s difficult to imagine someone matching the energy and determination of Cutler, playing partner in crime and friend Cynthia Weil, Seren Sandham-Davies turns in a thrilling performance, frequently accompanied by her instrumentals and battering down any audience reservations of the show.

With tremendous hits like Locomotion and You’ve Got A Friend, the entire production is uplifting and captures a by-gone era where dance ruled supreme – and with movers and groovers, the sixties is alive and beating with The Drifters or the Righteous Brothers. But let’s be honest – the number most have been waiting for, Natural Woman is as crowd-pleasing and thunderous in applause as one would expect, perfectly framing the journey King undertakes. But as much as the music takes front and centre, Leah Hill’s choreography maintains the momentum and action, tying music squarely into the beating heart of the show. Very rarely are the cast stationary, only where required for powerful numbers where emotion and lyrics take pride of place.

Anchoring itself within King’s story, the production follows a predictable dynamic – refuting the usual tropes of dream sequences or metaphorical imagery to instead forge a sense of stage realism – magnified by the stripped-back set, there is still theatrical trickery involved, but the rawness onstage is what the audience is here for, and the appreciation for which is gargantuan. What it does struggle with however is merging finer parts of the story coherently, Nikolai Foster’s direction of Cutler offers King a multi-dimensional persona, but others fall flat. And though no poor performances can be found, not all characters are on the same footing as Cutler and Davies.

The boys are here to play too, with Tom Milner and Jos Slovick sliding into the slip-on loafers of King’s former husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin and composer Barry Mann. The pair rob much of the humour, but Milner also fills the role of our infuser of tension – doing so while staving off the easy punches of being an outright villain, and instead of a broken and desperate man.

Bouncing, lunging and catapulting around Frankie Bradshaw’s set design, the entire show is illuminated in a soft, yet still showbiz style aura of silky and delicate yellows thanks to Ben Cracknell’s lighting conception. And for as vulgarly obvious the idiom may well be, Beautiful is well, beautiful. Living up to its namesake across the production, from the stripped-bare and raw emotional usage of the set and the absolute trust in musical capability for live instrumentals blended directly into the action and emotions of the show, the Carole King story is a touching, mesmerically gorgeous piece which encourages audiences to breathe and embrace the music within and live for their dreams no matter how long it may take.

Beautiful: The Carole King Story runs at the Festival Theatre until April 9th. Tickets for which can be obtained here.

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