Beautiful - The Carole King Musical is by no means a simple jukebox musical. It is a celebration of the music industry of the 60s and the contemporary music it generated, utilising hit songs not only written by King, often with Gerry Goffin, but also those by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector and many others.
With a book devised by Douglas McGrath, the narrative forms a gritty examination of how in her younger years, King transcended from a normal girl with an extraordinary talent, into a woman who wrote the soundtrack to a generation and played Carnegie Hall, a clever motif that bookends the show. From the beginning we, the audience know that this is where she will end up, making it more poignant to watch her unwittingly suffer and fight to get there.
Though the songs are classic hit singles that a multitude of people know and love, performed exuberantly here and despite the story being an inspirational retelling of persistence, it is stubbornly the design that shines here. Alejo Vietti's costumes are both stylistic and beautiful, brimming with detail and intelligibly designed for a series of spectacles driven by quick changes. Alongside this, the set is easily malleable and highly representative, allowing for the swift transition from scene to scene. The factory-esque look, littered with musical instruments reflects the analogy that the music industry at this time was like a song factory. But don't take our word for it, here's what the critics had to say?
'With slick set changes and clever costume transformations, the songs often get a sprinkle of stardust as they are performed by an enthusiastic ensemble cast, who bring the Drifters, the Shirelles and the Righteous Brothers to life. Special mention must go to Ben Morris, who brings a brilliantly ironic, cruise-ship quality to the crooning of Neil Sedaka.'
'Her [Bronté Barbés] rendition of 'Natural Woman' is a show highlight, showcasing the nuance and rawness in her voice. She also has a great connection with the audience, sweeping them along in King's story with all its emotions, successes and failures. She projects a very honest vulnerability of a woman so unsure of her own talents.'
'[Kane Oliver] Parry [Gerry Goffin] is both charming and deceptive as the crooner who serenades his wife at every opportunity and then continuously cheats on her as he struggles with his own mental health demons.'
- Aliya Al-Hassan, Broadway World
'...the show hasn't been pared down for the tour and with an arsenal of recognisable songs, still remains a fantastically entertaining piece of theatre.'
'She [Carole King] is played with absolute charm by Bronté Barbé, who brings a real innocence and vulnerability to the role along with some truly stunning vocals. Her husband and collaborator is given a charismatic rendering by Kane Oliver Parry and the often fractured relationship sizzles whenever they are onstage.'
- The Sweet London Life
'Bronté Barbé, gives an incredible performance and Carole. She captures Carole perfectly, from her mannerisms to the recognisable voice. Barbé astounds from the beginning, right through to the very end, giving a performance that must be extremely hard to match night after night.'
'Gerry Goffin played by Kane Oliver Parry, is a lovable character who makes some big mistakes. Kane plays him brilliantly with astounding vocals.'
'The quick changes performed by the ensemble cast are mind-blowing, leaving the audience gasping as they effortlessly switch costumes within seconds.'
'The entire ensemble give fantastic performances and the show is thoroughly enjoyable.'
- Becca Cromwell, Rewrite This Story
'Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves are terrific as Cynthia and Barry, providing the glamour and the sharp one liners that keep the show's energy up.'
'This is a big, technically competent production which has a West End slickness to the scene changes.'
'Barbé ends the show triumphantly, with big, gutsy performances of hits from Carole King's diamond-selling album Tapestry.'
- Jenny, Culture Vulture
'Virtually every song was greeted with loud applause.'
'...we have here some great performances by the cast, most convincingly impersonating popular artists of the time such as the Drifters, the Shirelles, Little Eva and the Righteous Brothers.'
'A word must be said too about the choreography, which is delightful, and about the band, which is excellent.'
- Richard McKee, Plays to See
'Bronté Barbé was entirely convincing as the young and older Carole, ...she brings the house down with the solo rendition of Beautiful which ends the show. By nature self-effacing, Carole King is a difficult character to play as the central role, but Barbé does so with charm, humour and commitment - and she can certainly sing the songs.'
'Costume Designer Alejo Vietti and team have created a feast of flares, fifties suits and shimmering dresses, and on a couple of occasions, presented these through a remarkable series of quick changes.'
'The choreography from Josh Prince evolved with the narrative, and it was a joy to see...'
- Chris Abbott, Sardines Magazine
'The cast are amazing, the ensemble are just fantastic, they are perfectly cast'
'The leads are fantastic too, great touring production, not very different to the West End'
'Honestly, so amazing, I loved it!'
- Perry O'Bree
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical ran at New Wimbledon Theatre from 22 to 26 May 2018.