Friday, December 2

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – Blackpool Grand

Leicester Curve’s production of Beautiful completely changes the original blueprint of the musical. This staging is a cool, stripped-back version focusing on the music and sound that shaped one of the most successful singer-songwriters.

At the start, we find an eager sixteen-year-old Carole Klein (yes, that’s right), trying to prove to her mother that she can be more than just a music teacher. The audience follows Carole through her song catalogue, all the way to her infamous performance of the Grammy award winning album Tapestry at Carnegie Hall.

Set mostly in a recording studio, the stage easily shifts to more intimate spaces with simple furnishings and choreographed movements. It’s modern and almost metallic, with a giant “beautiful” sign adorning it at beginning and end. With the show spanning many different decades and styles, the design is minimal and transitions well, letting Carole’s story be the centre of attention.

Molly-Grace Cutler’s (The Worst Witch) performance as King is not an imitation (although her voice could easily be mistaken for her) it’s an embodiment of her spirit and talent. Cutler has an infectious warmth that takes her from playing a teenager and on to mother, wife and successful recording artist. They play the role with utter generosity, giving themselves wholly to the story and encapsulating King’s passion. Their performance is worth the ticket price alone.

Opposite Cutler is Tom Milner (American Idiot) who plays flirtatious lyricist, Gerry Goffin. Cutler and Milner explore the tumultuous ups-and-downs of the couple with real vigour, not hiding away from the difficulties they had professionally and at home. Milner excels when we see the vulnerability and uncertainty in Gerry, and also has an electrifying rock sound.

Photo: Ellie Kurttz

King and Goffin wrote a plethora of hits for well-known artists which the ensemble play wonderfully. Stylistically assisted with costumes and choreography (by Leah Hill), they portray these icons with extra flair for the stage.

Another song-writing duo vying for success at the time were Mann and Weil. Serving as the relief to King and Goffin’s relationship, Barry and Cynthia lighten the mood with their playfulness and quirks. Seren Sandham-Davies (Crazy for You) brightens up the stage as charming Cynthia Weil, as Jos Slovick (Fiddler on the Roof) brings in a lot of laughs as suffering hypochondriac Barry, whose solos in both acts are ones to listen out for.

A stand-out vocal for me was Kevin Yates (Potted Panto) whose smooth, delicious tone in The Drifters songs had me hooked. With such a talented cast there are solos that shine, but also there are many spine-tingling moments from the superb ensemble pieces.

There were some technical issues, but this did not take away from how impressive the technical aspects are. With the blaring sound of a live band, the main vocals of a few numbers were slightly outmatched but, overall, the sound was successfully rousing and concert-like.

Nikolai Foster’s innovative new direction doesn’t feel like it’s been put on the musical, it serves the story and seems it should have always been this way. Having the actors play the music live allows the story to blend smoothly from song to speech and vice-versa and lets the audience hone in on the incredible talents in front of them.

The buzz of music creation is there when an actor plays the first chord to their own song, and it ricochets from the stage out into the crowd. It’s easy to forget just how many wonderful hits were influenced by King, but this production makes you take notice. I know I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Playing until 22nd October,

Reviewer: Coral Mourant

Reviewed: 18th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★