The whirlwind world of the 60s and 70s was brought to The New Theatre last month with performances of Beautiful, The Carole King Musical. Telling the story of the talented songwriter and world-renowned musician Carole King, Beautiful boasts a stunning catalogue of retro-pop music so sonically outstanding it still holds up today, with songs such as I Feel The Earth Move, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Locomotion, and A Natural Woman delivering feel-good vibes as well as emotional solace.
Beautiful offers insight into Carole King’s (played by Molly Grace Cutler) rise to stardom, exploring her personal life with former husband and fellow songwriter, Gerry Goffin (played by Tom Milner). The audience’s perception of King’s chart-topping 1972 album Tapestry is changed, with the musical’s story shining a light on its backstory. It’s an authentic tale of heartbreak, triumph, and trailblazing success - all from a regular schoolgirl propelled into stardom for her songwriting talents.
Beautiful also narrates the power of unwavering friendship. Don Kirshner is played by Garry Robson, a fiercely talented actor who is also a wheelchair user. He brought charisma and comedy to the stage in his scenes, which primarily were set in a recording studio: the background for the time and place of the story. We weren’t in The New Theatre anymore; we were transported to the buzzing music industry of 1960s New York. King and Goffin were signed to Broadway-based Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music Empire, where they met lifelong friends, Barry Mann (played by Jos Slovisk) and Cynthia Weil (played by Seren Sandham-Davies). We’re introduced to their friendly rivalry, with songs written by the artists setting the story in motion. One pattern in the musical’s plot would be the writers would work on a song, and then the girl groups, boy bands and singers would take to the stage. Members of the ensemble assembled to perform as famous groups such as The Drifters, The Shirelles and The Righteous Brothers - all of which had top hits written by King, Goffin, Mann and Weil, respectively.
Cutler’s stage presence was mesmerizing, with her vocals powerful, harnessing just that right amount of rasp. Her portrayal of Carole King was passionate and captivating, to say the least. The on-stage chemistry with Milner, performing as Gerry, was electrifying; the blending of their voices in the ballads, alongside their natural acting, depicted the real-life tumultuous relationship effectively. I can wholeheartedly say that the entire cast shone; the choreography was polished, the comedic timing was on point and some members of the cast even play their own instruments. Seren Sandham-Davies (Cynthia) and Jos Slovisk (Barry) provided comedic relief, with their charming portrayal of the heartwarming, slow-burn love story between the two writers making you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
The uplifting parts of the show will have you dancing and grooving in your seat - the mellow parts will bring a tear to your eye, spurred on by the fact it’s a true story. There wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t immersed in the story. In 2016, Cynthia Weil said: “The love and competition between the two couples is portrayed very accurately,” and this definitely felt valid at The New Theatre performance.