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Belgrade Theatre review: Beautiful

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Belgrade, Coventry, to November 5

Review by Les Grafton

In this lively musical, a remarkable and talented ensemble showcases the hits of Carole King superbly. From the audience’s enthusiastic reaction on opening night, this show attracts avid fans of the singer-songwriter. But if there is anyone out there unfamiliar with her great songs, a lavish and comprehensive programme helps fill the gaps.

If the tunes King produced with husband Gerry Goffin are not enough, added to the mix are hits from friends and rivals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil - songs such as You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, On Broadway and We Gotta Get Out of This Place. And it's the story of the relationships and the competitive dynamic that lifts this musical above the mere “Jukebox” variety.

The story covers King’s career from her early days of writing her first hit It Might as Well Rain Until September in the 50s, to her outstanding album Tapestry in 1971.

The production under director Nikolai Foster is faultless with a flexible set that revolves and changes with location and period. It enables the cast to move from the performance of each song seamlessly. The songs come thick and fast and the lighting design by Ben Cracknell subtly enhances the mood and tone of each performance. The wardrobe by Emma Hamlin looks authentic and evolves as the show moves through decades.

The show opens as the cast, all singers, musicians or dancers, loosely assemble onstage to a fifties soundtrack. Carole, played by Molly-Grace Cutler has an excellent voice and manages King’s Brooklyn twang, vibrato and vocal intonation effortlessly.

This is no karaoke impersonation but a full-throated performance of top quality. She is also an excellent pianist.

All the performers are at the top of their game belting through familiar songs like Take Good Care of My Baby, and Up on the Roof. There are also some surprises: I didn’t know Goffin and King wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday.

The songs are introduced chronologically and as the “Jukebox Musical” convention goes, the lyrical content is pertinent to the story arc as the Goffin-King marriage moves to the suburbs and eventually breaks down. Many of the routines could be described as showstoppers, but some standouts are Little Eva’s Locomotion and the Shirelles, in matching pink Circle skirts, doing a classic choreographed set for Will You Love Me Tomorrow which evolves from King’s slow, quieter demo.

Alongside the excellent music there are some acting highs with arguments between King and Goffin showing real bite. Tom Milner is so believable as the wayward Goffin that his late reappearance in the second half draws hisses from the audience.

I have run out of superlatives other than to thoroughly recommend this show. The finale elicits a standing ovation and the encore had everyone clapping and swaying on their feet. If you need an antidote to the mayhem of Halloween and Guy Fawkes, get down to the Belgrade for a night of musical celebration and nostalgia.

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