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14th October 2022

Review: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Beautiful has rock ‘n’ rolled its way to Palace Theatre Manchester
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Review: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Photo: Ellie Kurttz.

The multi-award-winning Beautiful: The Carole King Musical has rock ‘n’ rolled its way into Manchester. Featuring timeless hits adored by generations of music lovers, a 60s and 70s aesthetic and a community of multi-talented musicians, the show certainly lived up to its name.

The story follows real-life music icon Carole King (Molly-Grace Cutler) on her journey to stardom, from a starry-eyed 17-year-old musician who falls head over heels for her co-writer, Gerry Goffin (Tom Milner), to the world-famous soloist she became, exploring the highs and lows of her relationships and music career. Along the way, she makes friends with musical partners Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies) and Barry Mann (Jos Slovick) and starts a comedic musical rivalry for top records, developing heart-warming (and genuinely believable) life-long friendships.

Despite knowing a lot of Carole King’s songs, I had very little knowledge on the artist herself, perhaps because she stayed out of the lime-light in her youth; instead, choosing to co-write songs with her husband Gerry from the age of 17 for other artists to perform, garnering relationships with The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, The Monkees, Bobby Vee, James Taylor, Dusty Springfield and more. She became a solo singer at 29 years old, with her debut album Tapestries, where she re-released some of her classics with some of her newly written songs, creating an album that summarised the emotional rollercoaster of love and loss experienced within that decade of her life.

The stage was a combination of layers, with a permanent recording studio set that was covered by wheel-in backdrops and steps representing houses, television studios, stages, and other venues, creating an engaging, ever-changing space, – yet remaining the same place. This seemingly mirrored Gerry’s feelings of entrapment in the same places, relationships and careers, manifesting in his disturbing bongo accompanied arguments with Carole.

Whilst his character acts as the theatrical ‘villain’ of the musical, it was refreshing to see a multi-dimensional character that you could also sympathise with, who faced his own struggles from his childhood to his mental health and a difficulty settling down, whilst also being a frustrating womanizer who the audience can (and indeed did) boo at.

With it being set in the 60s, with realistic vintage fashion and morals, I was a bit concerned that some of the jokes or characters would feel a little distant for a 20-year-old like myself, however, it acted more as an engaging window into a community of the past with down-to-earth characters, and family friendly jokes about friendships and marriages that had the whole audience chuckling throughout.

Despite these humorous outbursts, the musical stuck to and never detracted any emotion away from the most heart-wrenching moments of her life. One such of these moments utilised moveable stairs used to isolate differences between the happy on-stage performers and heartbroken Carole, both singing the same song in different styles; one being pop and performative, the other being raw emotion – a gorgeous moment that had me gasping in surprise.

For those who love plenty of songs in their musicals, this one is sure to delight, featuring over twenty songs, including all time classics: ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’, ‘It’s too Late’, ‘The Locomotion’, ‘Natural Woman’, and ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, the latter repeated as an ode to the purity at the start of Carole and Gerry’s relationship. Each song felt equally as important and reflected moments of her life as well as being naturally inserted into the show as auditions and samples of her new music, sung by herself or groups like The Shirelles.

Molly-Grace Cutler undoubtedly stole the show with a brilliant recreation of King’s accent and voice, as well as a naturally awe-inspiring voice that enchantingly soared around the theatre. Her acting pitched King as a down-to-earth, unglamorous, slightly awkward, but ultimately relatable ‘natural woman’ (pardon the pun),

Similarly, I felt that the inclusion of the quirkiness of each character, from Barry’s hypochondriac and nervous statements to Carole’s mother, Genie (Claire Greenway), and her affectionate (and sometimes sarcastic) comments about her daughter’s life choices. However, the rest of the cast was perfect too, with multi-talented actors creating beautiful harmonies or solos as well as playing as an onstage band with trumpets, saxophones, strings, drums, guitars, and more which really captured an authentic window into King’s world of musical ingenuity.

At the show’s conclusion, the titular ‘Beautiful’ was enthusiastically performed, accompanied by glittering gold spotlights and confetti and dancing, ending the show on a happy note, which achieved well-deserved standing ovation. This ovation continued into an encore song that encouraged the audience to celebrate, sing, dance, and clap to ‘I Feel The Earth Move’, which the whole audience seemed to happily participate in. I felt that concluding the show with the titular ‘Beautiful’ (before the encore) was genius, perfectly summarising a movement from innocence to self-acceptance and finding herself as an individual, a musician, and a woman.

Indeed, the show itself is a “beautiful”, awe-inspiring experience. It creates a nostalgic love of 60s and 70s music, highlighting the developing sounds of pop, rock, and soul.

 

Beautiful plays at the Palace Theatre until October 15 and tours the UK until late November.


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