Beautiful The Carole King Musical, Churchill Theatre

This musical looks at the life and work of Carole King, an extremely talented woman whose intelligence sees her advance through high school into college. It is that maturity and talent that brings her into contact Gerry Goffin, a young and handsome lyricist who complements King’s musical talent.

In this touring production, following on from lengthy London and Broadyway runs, Daisy Wood-Davis plays King from innocent 16-year old with enviable talent to an older and wiser woman, recovering from a broken heart and new found confidence to write and perform her most acclaimed work Tapestry, which was released in 1971 when she was 29. It is a star making performance from Wood-Davis, who is best known for her TV work. She gets the vulnerability of a young woman desperate to make a marriage work to a man she loves and whom she believes can do better. Adam Gillan as Goffin provides a sympathetic portrayal as a young man who has tied himself down too soon. An incredibly talented lyricist he could easily be the show’s villain; Ike to Carole’s Tina but it delves deeper into the demons that produced great work but also lead to a tempestuous marriage and musical partnership.

Laura Baldwin (fresh from Waitress where she played Dawn) and Cameron Sharp as fellow songwriting partnership Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann provide great but oddly written support. For a show advertised as Carole’s story we hear a lot about these friends who also happened to write songs. The first half is full of scenes where a work is created and then performed in full usually by actors portraying the sixties African-American acts like The Drifters. It is clearly staged to cover set or costume changes but this is also this slightly odd “white saviour” complex as the audiences are reminded that the songs by black artists they loved were written by white people.

The second half is an improvement, primarily because the conflicts building in the first half come to a head and Davis-Woods gets to shine as the more mature and accepting King. There is good support from Susie Fenwick as her mother Genie, who provides emotional strength to Carole despite her doubts about her chosen career and Oliver Boot as Donnie Kirshner, whose hit factory develops Goffin and King as writers.

As a production it is not exceptional but it is a fantastic showcase for the work of King, Goffin, Wells and Mann. Very few songwriters have the impact they have; many tunes in the show I knew but had no idea they were written by them and it would be nice to know how certain songs developed. Goffin’s lyrics to (You Make Me Feel Like) ANatural Woman must have a story but it sadly isn’t explored. Beautiful is a great reminder of, and for some a great introduction to, Carole King’s work but there is so much more to her as a personality and her life beyond Tapestry that even stunning performances like Daisy Davis-Wood’s cannot reveal.

Beautiful is on until 18 January at Churchill Theatre and continues on tour

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