‘But the music keeps playing
And won’t let the world get me down.’
These lyrics from the title track of Carole King’s third album ‘Music’, released a mere 11 months after the legendary ‘Tapestry’ in 1971, could easily explain her life and career, neither of which were short of ups and downs. The question was, how on earth could anyone do it justice in just over two hours?
The moment the lights went down from her seat at the centrally placed piano, Molly-Grace Cutler (Carole) banished any concerns. The opening lines of ‘So Far Away’ were a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck/lump-in-the-throat moment. Her voice (whether she’d worked on it or not) was uncannily ‘Carole’, the theatre pin-drop silent. There followed an entertaining, slightly rushed account of her early years; learning the piano with her mother Genie (Claire Greenway) then, like any good teenager, ignoring the advice to go into teaching, eschewing Bach for pop in an effort to secure work from music impresario Don Kirshner (Garry Robson). She met Gerry Goffin (Tom Milner), three years her senior, at college and with his lyrics she began to meld together the blues, folk, soul, country and gospel elements that infused her work. Crucially this didn’t – and to this day hasn’t – ever appeared to be a conscious effort; for the one thing all her songs have is SOUL.
As a result of their burgeoning relationship the two married after Carole fell pregnant and it was here that the show revealed aspects of the struggle they endured, stretching themselves to the limit to write the hits that would win them an office in Don’s 1650 Broadway building. All while Carole was looking after their baby girl. This turned out to be the most interesting aspect of the night as we learned how songs manifesting themselves in public as bright, breezy pop hits for The Drifters, Shirelles or Chiffons were actually the product of a pressure-cooker environment, lyrics emerging from deep insecurities within both Goffin and King. Permit yourself twenty minutes with the words to either ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ or ‘Up On The Roof’ and try pretending it’s just something in your eye… furthermore, despite the outward perspective on how lovely a songwriter’s life seems, frustration (King and Goffin’s doomed move to the suburbs) clearly inspired ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and desperation Mann and Weil’s ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’.
Signs that not all was well with Gerry emerged early on, but the hits came – propelled by a healthy rivalry with songwriters-next-door Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies) and Barry Mann (Jos Slovick) – and didn’t stop. With the Douglas McGrath (Bullets Over Broadway) script we were amused and moved in equal measure between the songs and the set (Frankie Bradshaw) was cleverly designed so that any member of the multi-instrumental cast was never more than a few feet away from a guitar, bass, horn or conga. Which they actually played! The production covered Carole’s ascent from songwriter to multi-Grammy-winning recording artist and performer via Greenwich Village’s The Bitter End club and it’s safe to say the audience left feeling energised, entertained and… educated.
Playing until 9th April, https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/beautiful-the-carole-king-musical
Reviewer: Roger Jacobs
Reviewed: 5th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★