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Review - Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: a feast for the eyes and the ears

Right: Esther Hannaford stars as Carole King. Photograph: Joan Marcus

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Book by Douglas McGrath

Words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Directed by Marc Bruni

Presented by Michael Cassel in association with Paul Blake & Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Mike Bosner

Lyric Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank


Season: until 19 August. Bookings: or phone 136 246.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is the story of Carole King’s song writing/singing career from the age of 16 through to her Carnegie Hall concert following the release of her 1971 album, Tapestry.

The show opens with the 1970’s Carole King sitting at a grand piano, speaking to the audience before she launched into her first song So Far Away. From here, the audience was taken back to the 1950’s, where Carole was 16 years old and trying to convince her mother that it’s okay for her to travel to Times Square from Brooklyn to attempt to sell her first song It Might as Well Rain Until September. If my song isn’t as good as what is now playing on America’s Top Ten, she says to her mother, then I won’t go. It just so happened the song was Oh Carol and her mother relents.

The four cast members of Esther Hannaford (Carole King), Josh Piterman (Gerry Goffin), Cynthia Weil (Lucy Maunder) and Barry Mann (Mat Verevis) were perfectly cast as the four songwriter friends that produced so many number one hits during the rock ‘n’ roll era into the pop rock of the sixties.

Esther Hannaford as Carole was simply beautiful and has a powerhouse of a voice. I closed my eyes on the very first song and you could almost swear it was Carole herself on stage. Josh Piterman who portrayed Carol’s troubled, mentally ill husband, Gerry Goffin, was superb. Their portrayal of the song writing, musical duo was sensational from their early beginnings as teens, the early pregnancy and marriage, the troubles that inflicted their relationship to finally, divorce.

Lucy Maunder and Mat Verevis are the other song writing musical duo, who were best friends with King and Goffin, and were competitive professionally, as both couples tried to outdo the other with who was going to write the next number one.

King/Goffin won that prize, more often than not. What was an absolute eye opener for those who do not know (and I didn’t), was that these four people wrote a plethora of songs during their career for many big stars, like Some Kind of Wonderful, and Up On The Roof (The Drifters), Will You Love Me Tomorrow (The Shirelles), Locomotion (Little Eva) to Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees), to name but a few. At one point during the show when Kirshner tells King and Goffin that Pleasant Valley Sunday would be perfect for The Monkees, Goffin sarcastically quips “Great, now we’re writing for a sitcom”.

After each new song was written, the singer or group launched into a performance of it. The eight male and female performers who were the Drifters (Barry Conrad, Marcus Corowa, Nana Matapule and Joseph Naim) and The Shirelles (Ruva Ngwenya, Chloe Zuel, Rebecca Selley and Akina Edmonds) were exceptionally good – the moves were down pat and the costumes were simply splendid. There were some very quick, clever changes, where in one scene the girls went from street wear, all in the matter of a few seconds as the costume was undone at the shoulder, and it folded down to reveal sparkling pink frocks.

The other two main characters on stage were Don Kirshner (Mike McLeish), and Genie Klein (Anne Wood). These two were both superb in their roles as the owner of Aldon Music and Carole’s mother respectively.

There are many comedic bits in the show as well, with plenty of laughter, and quips made by Carole, usually about herself. One particularly funny part for me was when Cynthia presented Barry with the words to You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling and he didn’t like it. He reckoned that nobody would want to sing a song with the words ‘whoa whoa whoa’ in it, but played it on the piano at her insistence like a dirge. The audience is then treated to it being sung, as it was intended, by The Righteous Brothers (Jason Arrow and Andrew Cook).

The stage was incredible with the various scenes smoothly transitioning with the aid of either a double circular stage or railing to move walls, furniture, piano, and doors to different spots on and off the stage. Sparkling curtains and other walls/backdrops floated down from above to transform the stage from an office or home scene to a television set or concert stage. The stage also featured a two-tiered platform at either side, which gave the appearance of multiple recording studios at Don Kirshner’s business at 1650 Broadway.

The costuming overall was fantastic — Carol’s were just like her character, understated, and a little bit old fashioned, whereas Cynthia’s were flamboyant and colourful. I loved the purple and white outfits of the backing group and Little Eva (who was King/Goffin’s babysitter) as she sang Locomotion, the sparkling outfits of The Shirelles and the snazzy outfits of The Drifters.

Beautiful was “some kind of wonderful” and was a show that made you feel like you were at a concert. The talent on stage was incredible and the scenery, props and effects enhanced the story, rather than being the show. This was an excellent musical about an incredibly talented and exceptional woman, who wrote some amazing music, and in her own words never started out with the dream that she would be a singer.

I totally loved this show and would see it again and again and again. There was nothing to fault, it has great music spanning, I think, three of the best decades (1950s-70s), and is a feast for the eyes, but more particularly, the ears.

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