BEAUTIFUL – Bristol Hippodrome

4 April 2018


Advertised as a ‘Jukebox’ musical, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, falls into the category of those where the story and the music actually have a connection. 

Told as a retrospective, the show begins when King has hit the big time, performing solo for the first time at Carnegie Hall in 1971. We are swiftly taken back to her teenage years, when, as an enthusiastic 16year old, she sells her first song, at a time when females weren’t meant to write songs!! There follow brief glimpses of her life as a songstress interspersed with vignettes of her work in performance.

The story focuses on King’s relationship with her collaborator and husband Gerry Goffin and their friendly rivalry with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The names may be unfamiliar to many, but the talent of this quartet is illustrated by the songs they wrote, especially in the 1960s. King and Goffin being responsible for hits such as ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘A Natural Woman’ and ‘The Loco-motion’ – there are many others.

As Carole King, Bronté Barbé is outstanding. She moves effortlessly from a gawky 16yo to a Mother, jilted wife and star with a winning smile and lightness of touch as well as an awesome voice. It’s a complete tour de force. She is backed up well by Kane Oliver Parry as Goffin who is a perfect foil, and their duets are, indeed, beautiful. Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves make for huge fun as the quirky and entertaining Weil and Mann – they too produce a fine performance together

As the impresario Donnie Kirschner, Adam Howden fares less well. His default position of legs astride, hands firmly in pockets and chest out, created a woodenness which was at odds with the other performers and became distracting. The very experienced Carol Royle brought gravitas to King’s strong-willed Mother, Genie, and was it me, or did she bear a striking resemblance to that other showbusiness matriarch Joan Crawford?

The Ensemble worked their socks off and produced delightful song and dance moments from The Drifters to The Shirelles and The Righteous Brothers. A special mention for Ben Morris whose brief turn as Neil Sedaka (Oh Carole! – the song he wrote for his ex-girlfriend) was a camp delight.  

The original show direction is by Marc Bruni and is free-flowing but lacks those real climaxes which make you want to go WOW! The moving screens and furniture provided slick staging enhanced by great lighting and perfect sound. With an orchestra, lead excellently by Patrick Hurley, who filled the Hippodrome with wonderful tunes, it wasn’t surprising that the packed auditorium met the show with huge enthusiasm.

Yet somewhere I felt there was something missing. The story, though interesting, and fascinating, seeing the development of individual songs, was never emotionally involving. There was an extra level which the show didn’t reach. Maybe that isn’t what is necessary here. It is charming, inoffensive and entertaining and as a celebration of a great musical talent, it is spot on.



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