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A CurtainUp London Review
Beautiful The Carole King Musical
The biographical story probably works better than the Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You fantasy force fit story line, although in both cases people will come to see great music sung live. What is so refreshing about Beautiful is the way the songs come alive with pop up artists. The opening of Neil Sedaka's "Oh Carol" which was one of my first three 45s as barely a teenager to annoy my parents by non-stop playing on my new record player. So I have a declared interest since this is the music of my era.
The highly stylized choreography of groups like The Drifters or The Shirelles are really funny when viewed from the more naturalist perspective of dance choreography today, so we have wonderful tunes and hysterical over the top movement. Remember those of us in the UK were more used to hearing the tunes on the radio or disc than to seeing the recorded performances. Fleshing out Carole King and Gerry Goffin's tunes and words are those from their friends and rivals Cynthia Weil (Lorna Want) and Barry Mann (Ian McIntosh) and the unseen Phil Spector, in the Righteous Bothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling."
I loved the set of recording studio pods at 1650 Broadway illustrating the confined space Carole King and Gerry Goffin composed in together. There is plenty of sassy dialogue and Carole's mother Genie Klein (played by an unrecognizable Glynis Barber) has plenty of those deprecating humorous put downs for her daughter, including re-inventing the history as to who wanted Carole to be a teacher.
Recast by British actor-singers, this is a thoroughly professional show with perfect accents, wonderful singing voices and choreography which could have inspired Monty Python's silly walks sketches. I defy you not to grin at the dance moves. Katie Brayben as Carole has that slightly goofy personality who cannot belief that heartthrob Goffin wants to marry her but who also has to cope with his descent into drugs (LSD, although the show isn't specific, as I remember) and infidelity. Lorna Want as Cynthia has a brilliantly clear voice and Katie Brayben sings well and looks as if she is playing that piano. We all saw Alan Morrissey as the hero in I Can't Sing but here his character has a darker side as a man who got married at a very young age.
For me, the outstanding pleasure of Beautiful is the stream of energetic performances from the Drifters, the Righteous Brothers, the Shirelles and the Chiffons. All are dressed in fabrics and styles of the era with wigs that are authentic, so the joy is in both in the sounds and the sights of iconic discography.
For Elyse Sommer's review of this production in New York and the complete song list go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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