Beautiful: The Carole King Story – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre

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Beautiful the Carole King Musical - Leeds Grand Theatre 2018

Beautiful: The Carole King Story – Review

Leeds Grand Theatre, May 2018

by Steve Crabtree – @stevecrab

Being lucky enough to see Beautiful: The Carole King Story for the second time in eight months this week meant that I was heading to Leeds Grand Theatre in great spirits.  Knowing that I was in for a fantastic night meant that I was extra excited for this one.

The production has been touring the UK for quite some time now, earning fantastic reviews along the way. And I’m not surprised. It’s a compendium of beautiful, quality music. A rich story. And all the other elements that go in to it compliment that perfectly.

The show begins in 1971, at King’s legendary performance at Carnegie Hall.  We quickly jump back in time to her keen teenage years as a songwriter dying to impress. The musical is an enthralling story about her rise from that young, innocent girl to world renowned musical all-rounder.

Oh, and we also get to hear one or two hit records here and there.

Throughout the night, we easily warm to an amazing cast, the vast majority of whom appeared in the same show in Bradford last September.  They were great then, but are a superior and well oiled machine now. Especially the leads.

King is played by Bronté Barbé, a finalist as Dorothy on BBC’s Over The Rainbow. She and her writing partner Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry) create musical chemistry whilst falling in love.  And a friendly, warm musical rivalry opens up between them and best friends Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves).  The four of them combine so well on stage, but the way Richardson and Gonslaves connect is beautiful.

Beautiful the Carole King Musical - Leeds Grand Theatre 2018

“Grace, dignity and class”

What I noticed the most on my second showing, was the humourous moments. We’re not talking about just the odd bit of laughter here and there.  A huge chunk of the show is very funny, aided by the timing of the actors delivering the lines.  Or the expressions. The Neil Sedaka cameo is a comedy show in itself.

But King is rarely off stage. We see her highs. Her lows. The way she handled anything that was thrown at her with grace, dignity and class. But not always with ease.

Between fantastic numbers such as ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’,’Up on the Roof’ and ‘One Fine Day’, we learn the tale of young motherhood and marriage, self-doubt, and Goffin’s mental state and infidelity addiction. A scattering of ‘The Loco-Motion’, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and ‘We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ give a buoyant Leeds audience an eclectic mix of amazing songs.

I love the scenery. I’ve been lucky enough to see a number of shows over the last twelve months, and none of the backdrops have been as impressive as this. From the 60s-styled modern office, to the glitzy lights and drapes of a live stage. Sleek changeovers just make it more difficult for me to find flaws in this production.

“You could hear the whole room hold their breath”

As for hairs-standing-on-the-back-of-your-neck moments, we were treated to plenty. ‘(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ give you goose bumps. And you could hear the whole room hold their breath when the intro to It’s Too Late. A favourite song of mine, and the highlight of the show for me.

One costume change that made the jaw drop was The Shirelles instant transformation from plain clothes in the rehearsal room, to glamorous showbiz beauties on the stage.

I’ve sometimes seen Beautiful: The Carole King Story labelled a “jukebox” musical. That’s slightly offensive in my opinion. There’s an abundance of amazing songs, but there’s a strong and credible tale entwined with them. Reflective of Carole King’s personality, and musical ability.

An entertaining, empowering, must-see show; with a too-short, but enjoyable dance-along ending.  If you’ve seen it once…you’ll probably want to see it again.

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