I was bowled over by the premiere of this UK tour when I reviewed the opening night at Malvern back in May and thoroughly enjoyed seeing how it had matured after ‘four months on the road’ at the Hippodrome last night.
In 2013, the original show had mixed reactions on Broadway but this new version from Leicester’s exciting ‘Curve’ producing theatre is, as I predicted, running with much stronger legs and packing auditoria across the UK.
The action starts from the minute you enter the theatre. The rear of the stage is split into a recording studio control room and a drum booth where much is already happening. In front of these actors and musicians tune up, perform riffs and chat.
The stage is devoid of any curtaining front, back and above. Above it banks of lights gaze down like inquisitive eyes.
The lighting state changes and suddenly a grand piano is discovered, caught in an inverted pyramid of light from a spot way up in the Gods.
Everyone and everything else has disappeared like a conjuring trick and we are now in a giant concert hall circa 1971 where Carol King is introduced and we burst into spontaneous applause as she sings the first few bars of ‘So Far Away’.
Whilst we are still clapping the grand piano moves off and is replaced by a small upright in the 1958 home where a 15–year-old Carole is writing and singing encouraged by her mother.
In the blink of an eye we are transported again to Queen’s College in New York City where she meets her husband-to-be Gerry Goffin.
Carole is a mother at 16 and along with her husband, becomes a sort after songwriter by seventeen – and here we are barely a few minutes into the show, so fast does it all move.
Musically from ‘Oh Carol’ to ‘Natural Woman’ the hits just keep coming; after all she wrote and co-wrote over 120 of them, for a innumerable bevy of groups and solo artists until she turned the spotlight on herself.
‘Beautiful’ confines itself story wise to the earlier years of her life, up until a couple of years after her divorce from Goffin and her solo career as a performer heralds the next stage of her life.
Molly-Grace Cutler is simply sensational as Carole King, oozing charisma, credibility and vulnerability.
There are no passengers in this multi-talented cast; they all play a variety of instruments and multi-role as pop groups, solo artists, recording technicians and a myriad of others whilst moving the scenery to boot.
Tom Milner makes for a moody and tortured soul as Gerry Goffin; Jos Slovick piles on the Jewish humour as songwriter Barry Mann; Seren Sanham-Davies is a blonde bundle of talent as Barry’s wife and writing partner Cynthia Weil.
Garry Robson captures the madness of the 1960’s musical revolution as studio bigwig Donnie Kirshner.
Douglas McGrath’s book is sharp and crisp raising it above the common jukebox musical dialogue which is usually just a weak sandwich filling between the songs.
Nikolai Foster has directed with extraordinary passion and originality. Frankie Bradshaw’s stripped back, ever moving set is a triumphant clutter and Ben Cracknell’s lighting design cavernous and dazzling.
Understandably the first night sparkle wasn’t there this time around – nor was the unforgettable relief on the faces of the cast in the walkdown. They now just smile with the joy of another standing ovation.
‘Beautiful’ is beautiful both in name and practice; a joyous show not to be missed.
The show runs at the Hippodrome until Saturday, September 3.
Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews