Beautiful: The Carole King Musical UK Tour - Theatre Royal Plymouth Review
With hits including ‘(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Women’, ‘Take Good Care Of My Baby’, ‘The Locomotion’ and ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, singer/songwriter Carole King is the voice and talent behind many a famous tune, and she soared into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The stage musical adaptation of her story entitled ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ premiered back in 2013, with Broadway, West End and touring productions proving popular with theatre goers and the show is currently out on its third UK Tour.
The show follows Carole (played here by Molly-Grace Cutler) from a wide eyed and innocent 16-year-old desperate to sell her first song, through her marriage with Gerry Goffin (Tom Milner) to her sell out performance at Carnegie Hall. We see the competitive side of the music industry, with song writer’s battling to get the popular acts to perform their songs as couple Carole and Gerry come up against fellow writers Cynthia Weil (Seren Sandham-Davies) and Barry Mann (Jos Slovick) and we see how trouble in their relationships both affected their home lives and their careers.
It is Molly-Grace Cutler who both leads and steals the show here as Carole King herself, showcasing a powerhouse vocal performance, blended with the rollercoaster of emotions she encounters through her relationship with Goffin and her career. Cutler proves herself to be a star and a true triple threat as she sings, dances, and plays multiple instruments. Her relationship with Tom Milner as the competitive and passionate Gerry Goffin is believable. Milner’s Gerry is a difficult character to like, down to the decisions made throughout, but Milner is able to show a softer side, some reasoning and you find yourself feeling for them.
Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick make a lovable pair as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, desperate to make themselves as successful a writing team as Carole and Gerry. Claire Greenway and Garry Robson add some comedy and heart as Carole’s mother Genie and music company boss Donnie Kirshner. The ensemble play a multitude of roles, with the four actors taking on the role of the Drifters proving especially impressive.
In this revamped version of the show, produced by Curve Leicester in partnership with Theatre Royal Bath and Mayflower Theatre Southampton, we see perhaps a slightly scaled back set and staging compared to the previously touring production I saw back in 2018. The set consists of plain wooden walls, decorated with posters of musical acts and recording room equipment, with different walls being wheeled in and out to create a school, a club, and apartments. The major new element of this production is the decision to have all of the cast playing their own instruments and making up the orchestra. Whilst impressive to see a cast full of triple threats making some incredible music, this isn’t without its downsides. With the musicians being so close to the vocalists during the numbers, some of the lyrics are, at times, drowned out by the music. Also, with all of the cast playing instruments, at times you would scenes of dialogue with characters holding their instruments as if waiting for the next musical number or crossing the stage to collect their instrument in preparation, which proved a little bit distracting.
The music is the heart and soul of this piece, and whilst it feels right that it is given the opportunity to truly shine, I can’t help by feel that the story suffered in places because of it. There is both light and darkness in this show, and it was these darker moments that were perhaps not given as much attention. The moments in which arguments are paired with drums and percussion were effective but fell a little flat at the climax. A little bit more attention was needed here, I feel, to truly highly the importance of these moments.
Overall, ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ blends music with a story full of heart, emotion, and comedy, with some clever lines and some stand out musical moments. The cast perform the music beautifully, truly highlighting the storytelling in King’s writing and performance with the spotlight being placed well and truly on the music itself.
You can book tickets to the UK Tour here https://beautifulmusical.co.uk/tour/