Review of ‘Beautiful’ – the Carole King Musical at WMC(1 / 5)
It is hard to overstate the talent and importance of Carole King as a songwriter. 118 top fifty hits in the US gives some indication of the success she has enjoyed, but doesn’t in itself demonstrate the quality of her writing or its importance. Her first hit, written with Gerry Goffin as lyricist, when she was just sixteen, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ is astonishing in its quality, particularly for one so young and from such a non-musical background. Writing a string of hits for women and black artists, predominantly though not exclusively, in the sixties and then the move to LA after finally having enough of Goffin’s faithless behaviour, shows her incredible courage. The weeks recording ‘Tapestry’ – one of the most successful albums of all time – next door to Joni Mitchell recording ‘Blue’ and Jackson Browne recording ‘Late For The Sky’ have gone into modern musical folklore with some justification. Carole King is essential and central in the rise of the singer-songwriter. She is an essential and wonderful part of the story of women’s voices being heard and celebrated. She is a wonderful, wonderful talent.
Given all this, a musical telling the story of her early years, leading up to her legendary solo performance at Carnegie Hall, should be a glorious and fascinating thing. ‘Beautiful’ certainly is not that. What this is, unfortunately, is a cut and paste comic-book story homage of the sort which might have been serialised in ‘Jackie’ in 1973. A sequence of incredibly short and trivial scenes, fly in or slide in, at bewildering pace, with cardboard cut out characters of managers and mothers and friends, who speak in ghastly and trivial cliches before being whirled away to be replaced with more cliches on the breakdown of married life from a cardboard Carole and Gerry, who seem to have stumbled onstage from a black and white episode of ‘Bewitched’ circa 1968.
The songs and the dances which attend them are adequately delivered at very best. These are amazing and wonderfully memorable songs, loved by the audience, and, given the budget of this kind of show and the talent pool available, should have been superbly and innovatively choreographed, orchestrated and sung. However, on an expensive but deeply unimaginative set, some very, very ordinary dance and movement did nothing to enhance the songs or bring the stage to life.
There was nothing wrong with Daisy Wood-Davis, Adam Gillian or Laura Baldwin in the lead roles. I quite liked Wood-Davis – she had an energy and commitment which was pleasing and a decent voice. But it is hard to imagine what anyone could have done with a script like this. When you think of the issues Carole King’s story throws up around women, race, the music industry, the sexual revolution, the inequalities marriage imposes etc – this is a playwright’s goldmine, surely?
There was not a memorable line or genuinely theatrical moment in the entire piece. When Carole decides to leave New York to set off for LA as a performer as well as songwriter, she sits at her piano and tells her friends that she is ‘saying goodbye with a song’ and sings them, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ as they circle her at the piano and join in. There is a ghastly level of embarrassment to this smaltz.
Cards on the table, juke-box musicals are not my favourite forms of entertainment and I wouldn’t dream of paying money to see anything about Abba or Queen under any circumstances, but this is Carole King and what an opportunity to tell explore her incredibly important story is missed in this silly fluff-piece.