Review: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (4 stars)

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Songwriter's fledgling years brought to life with soul and wit

For everyone who wore a hole in their LP/tape/CD through repeat playing, Carole King is synonymous with one thing: Tapestry. But that remarkable collection of songs, home to 'You've Got a Friend', 'It's Too Late' and many more, is but a fraction of King's output – and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is here to make sure that's not forgotten.

We first meet King in 1971, seated at a grand piano in Carnegie Hall. She can't quite believe she's there, despite the back catalogue of hits she's already amassed: 'Take Good Care of My Baby', 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?', 'The Loco-Motion', 'Up on the Roof'. But all those songs were written for other people – and the fascinating journey leading King to that iconic New York stage, performing live for the first time, is what this clever and funny musical is all about.

Bronté Barbé does a sterling job in the starring role, imbuing King with an endearing awkwardness that has us rooting for her from the start. Whether she's a 16-year-old hopeful in her mother's Brooklyn living room, a successful writer whose songs are at the top of the US charts sung by The Drifters and the Shirelles, a mother of two desperately trying to hold onto a philandering husband (Gerry Goffin), or a woman finally coming into her own, Barbé holds us in the palm of her hand.

Which is why, strangely, it doesn't matter that her singing voice bears little resemblance to King's – she belts out the songs in her own style. What does matter, is the sharpness of Douglas McGrath's Tony-nominated Book. Rich with funny one-liners and clever observations, it widens out the spotlight to include King and Goffin's best pals, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – an equally successful songwriting partnership responsible for the likes of 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling'.

Part juke box musical, part tender love story, part fascinating insight to the song writing 'factories' of the 1950s and 60s, Beautiful may shoe-horn a few more songs in than feels necessary, but never loses sight of the very human stories at its heart.

Reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

  • Directed by: Marc Bruni
  • Written by: Gerry Goffin (music & lyrics), Barry Mann (music & lyrics), Cynthia Weil (music & lyrics), Douglas McGrath, Carole King (music & lyrics)

Musical charting the early life and career of the singer-songwriter and her husband Gerry Goffin.

The Grand Theatre & Opera House, Leeds

Tue 29 May

£29–£49.50 / 0844 848 2700

  • 19:30

Wed 30 May

£29–£49.50 / 0844 848 2700

  • 14:30
  • 19:30

Thu 31 May

£29–£49.50 / 0844 848 2700

  • 14:30
  • 19:30
…and 2 more dates until 2 Jun

Liverpool Empire Theatre

Tue 1 May

£14.90–£77.40 / 0870 606 3536

Wed 2 May

£14.90–£77.40 / 0870 606 3536

Thu 3 May

£14.90–£77.40 / 0870 606 3536

…and 2 more dates until 5 May

New Theatre, Oxford

Tue 8 May

£15–£69.50 / 0844 871 3020

Wed 9 May

£15–£69.50 / 0844 871 3020

Thu 10 May

£15–£69.50 / 0844 871 3020

…and 2 more dates until 12 May

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