Written by Jamie Griffiths on October 12, 2022
by Tiffany Chevis at Manchester Palace Theatre
If you’ve ever listened to the radio, you’ve probably heard a Carole King song. A prolific composer, singer, and songwriter who sold her first song aged just 16, her music – often written alongside husband Gerry Goffin – was performed by The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Monkees, and Aretha Franklin to name just a few, before her own voice became just as successful.
Beautiful is the remarkable story of her life, love, losses and triumphs, and has been taken on by Theatre Royal Bath, Mayflower Theatre, and The Curve under the direction of Nikolai Foster.
Stripped back from the previous West End and touring production, the focus feels very much on the music at the heart of the story, with all cast members doubling as the orchestra. With a largely stripped back set designed by Frankie Bradshaw featuring moveable walls to make up new rooms, characters come and go through the scenes, picking up a guitar here, laying down a clarinet there.
The first half has a frenetic energy, bubbling away like the teenage Carole as she pushes to achieve a dream no-one really believes can be realised. The slightly chaotic nature of having all cast-come-musicians on stage could perhaps be interpreted as a representation of the competitive and relentless music industry. At times, those singing were somewhat lost amongst a sea of instruments, but the talent of those performing was nonetheless clear.
Act two feels more mature and sure of itself – whether a choice to reflect Carole’s own progress or just the show settling in. With more depth of emotion and a closer look at the story itself, the music in this half is poignant and directed with, at times, a reflective stillness that let the lyrics and melody speak for themselves.
Molly-Grace Cutler is an endearing and powerful Carole – building from awkward young woman thrown into the adult world of performance, marriage and motherhood before she was quite ready, to someone with grace, confidence and unique way of communicating. Cutler’s vocals do more than justice to the soaring ballads, with Natural Woman giving her the full attention of those on and off stage.
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who stood just outside King and Goffin’s shadows as a songwriting duo, were portrayed by Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick respectively, sharing a warmth, humour and understanding between each other that at times had a more natural flow. Their voices felt well matched to their characters, with Sandham-Davies in particular having a real strength and energy.
In a style that steps away from the glitz and glamour of Broadway, this telling of Carole King remains inspiring, highlighting the breadth of her musical style that’ll have you humming her tunes for days afterwards.