Theatre Review - Beautiful

The Carole King musical, ‘Beautiful’ has a kind of self-empowerment and heart you wouldn’t find in most jukebox shows, says Aoife O’Connor.

Some of the cast of Beautiful performing

You’ll feel the earth move under your feet…

A certain generation will know Carole King as the woman who became the best-selling female singer-songwriter of all time in 1971 with her album, Tapestry, featuring instantly recognisable hits like ‘You’ve Got a Friend’, ‘Natural Woman’ and ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’. Less well known is the fact that King was one half of the team behind many of the biggest hits of the 1960s, the composer of classics like ‘The Loco-Motion’, ‘Up on The Roof’, ‘One Fine Day’ and ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’.

For the most part the musical, Beautiful concentrates on the almost unbelievable life of a young King (Bronté Barbé) as she enters the fast-paced world of songwriting. At the show’s opening she’s a smart-talking, ambitious 16-year-old who falls for lyricist Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry). A surprise pregnancy later the two are married and working together for Arlon Music under the eye of legendary producer Donnie Kirshcer (Adam Howden). With Carole writing the music and Gerry on lyrics,  the duo churns out hits for iconic soul groups like The Shirelles and The Drifters with remarkable ease. A competitive streak between the pair and songwriting partners Barry Mann (Matthew Gonslaves) and Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) leads to the couple writing ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ in just one night. 

Some time (and various wig changes) later, the dream team of King and Goffin turns sour, leaving King to discover her true sound at the end of the show, and write Tapestry. This is the story of how one woman channeled her struggle and pain into finding her voice – and what a voice it is.

Bronté Barbé offers a timid yet plucky version of King, who’s oddly Streisand-ish accent can be forgiven for the fact that she can belt out King’s hits with ease, bringing the depth and warmth that made these songs what they are today. By the time the climactic confrontation between King and Goffin comes around, the audience whoop and cheer for the sheer strength of this phenomenal women.  It’s not often that you’d find a character so quirky and modest at the helm of a musical like this. Jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages have nothing on the heart that the unique character and songs of Carole King bring to Beautiful. 

Jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages have nothing on the heart that the truly unique character and songs of Carole King bring to this musical.

By the finale, the 4th wall is broken as the audience become the spectators packing out the seats of King’s 1971 concert in Carnegie Hall. As Barbé walks out and sits alone at the piano, shyly waving to the audience, you are transported. This is Carnegie Hall, and she is Carole King. As she belts out the titular title track you feel the pain and heartache of her relationship and how she has found the strong, independent woman that we see on stage now. She sings to both the audience and herself: “You’re beautiful as you feel”.

As well as a strong leading lady, a wealth of brilliant supporting characters and dazzling 60s style performances by fantastic versions of The Shirelles and The Drifters, who sang most of Goffin and King’s early songs, make this a musical a treat. You’ll well up at the show’s gorgeous harmonic version of ‘You’ve Got a Friend’, while ‘(You Make Me Feel) Natural Woman’ will have you wanting to belt along with King.

What better way to kick off the new year than with a show about such self-empowerment?

‘Beautiful’ runs in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from January 9th to the 20th. Book your tickets here!

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