Review - Beautiful: The Carole King Musical comes to London

Despite frequently telling people left right and centre that jukebox musicals aren't my cup of tea, I must admit that when I learned Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was getting a West End transfer, I was very excited. After it amounted 7 tony award nominations last year my interest was piqued, and once I had purchased the cast album I knew that I had to see this show.

Photo credit - Tristram Kenton
Much like the Four Seasons in the popular musical Jersey Boys, while the name Carole King may not mean much to a large majority of generation x-ers, the music of King and Goffin is so ingrained into popular culture that most of us don't even know how we know hits such as Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Take Good Care of My Baby, we just...do! For this reason, when Rebecca at Official Theatre offered a couple of London theatre bloggers tickets to see the newly opened show, I jumped at the chance. So last night I made the journey down to the Aldwych to see if my high expectations would be matched, and I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed. In fact, not only were they matched but in some ways they were exceeded to an extent I could have never predicted.
The basic plot follows Carole King, her husband Gerry Goffin and their friends and songwriting rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Man, during their rise to fame from the late 50's onward. The dialogue is frequently interspersed with familiar songs, especially in the first act, and I frequently caught myself grinning at the slickness with which numbers were choreographed and the enthusiasm and talent with which the cast performed. However while initially this song-scene-song structure is effective, after a while the first act does seem to get a little repetitive, with King and Goffin writing a song and various groups taking that song and recording it. And while Douglas McGrath's book allows the audience to be a fly on the wall during intimate moments in act 1, at some points the more dramatic act 2 moments feel a bit sitcom-y in tone due to having received the same treatment. All in all though, the story of Carole King and her colleagues is an interesting and surprising one which kept me entertained and emotionally invested from beginning to end.

For me though, one of the most delightful elements of the show is the way that Katie Brayben transforms herself from naive teenage Carole Klein to self assured Carole King of Tapestry fame in front of the audience's eyes. Brayben nails King's iconic twangy vocals, captures all of her characteristic quirks and hits her Brooklyn accent out of the park. Paired with Alan Morrissey as the passionate yet tumultuous Gerry Goffin, Brayben captivates the audience and leads the show masterfully. Meanwhile Ian McIntosh is hilarious as hypochondriac songwriter Barry Mann,  and Lorna Want is charming as Cynthia Weil, the quick witted and super chic lyricist with the wittiest dialogue and perhaps the most stylish wardrobe in the whole show. As you would expect, the ensemble is on top form, with standout performances by Lucy St Louis who brings boundless energy and fun to her solo The Locomotion, and Ed Currie and Dylan Turner who wow with their dulcet tones as The Righteous Brothers.

Alejo Vietti's costume design was also first class, with some really staggering quick changes, no shortage of sequins, and more slacks than anyone could ever wish for. Truly, if I could have taken home everything Cynthia wore during the show then I'd have done it in a heartbeat. Beautiful is a vintage clothes lover's paradise.

I can't say enough good things about Beautiful. It's slick, it's glitzy and I predict it's going to be a surefire hit with the masses, but it's not just a stylish paint by numbers jukebox musical, it's got a heart too. In fact, it feels like I've had a lump in my throat ever since I left the theatre and I can't quite explain why. But I like it! So grab a ticket while you can as I predict that with word of mouth this show will be drawing in the crowds for months and months to come.

Verdict - 4 Stars

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