Her music had been the soundtrack of my teenage years but this week everyone can enjoy Beautiful, the superbly constructed jukebox-style musical which plays Milton Keynes Theatre and features the hits of legendary singer song-writer Carole King.
Beautiful is the story of Carole Joan Klein (superbly played by Bronté Barbé) who, as a cocky 16-year-old Brooklyn kid, skips a couple grades at school to seek her fortune in New York, much against the wishes of her divorced Jewish mother Genie Klein who wants her to be a music teacher… “Girls don’t write music, they teach it," she exclaims.
With a surname change to King, Carole's remarkable talent saw a meteoric rise to stardom after co-writing a string of hits at the 1650 Broadway studio, which became something of a musical 'sausage factory' and was home to host of pop writing talent.
King's hits includes such classics as It Might As Well Rain Until September, One Fine Day, Up On The Roof, The Loco-Motion and You’ve Got a Friend although she doesn't get a break until impressing producer and manager Donnie Kirshner (Adam Howden) who decides to take her under his wing with some reservations.
While her melodies are wonderful, she struggles with the lyrics… enter highly-strung fellow student and aspiring playwright Gerry Goffin. He certainly came up with the goods and before long the pair become a solid writing partnership and are very much in love!
At just 18, she and 21-year-old Goffin penned Will You Love Me Tomorrow which became their first number one and was sung by The Shirelles. An unplanned pregnancy then led to a speedy marriage and that resulted in Take Good Care of My Baby, their second big hit, this time sung by Bobby Vee – and things were now really looking up.
Carole and Gerry (played by Kane Oliver Parry) also enjoy a friendly rivalry with the vivacious Cynthia Weil and her destined to be hypochondriac partner Barry Mann, the two sets of talented writers become good friend as they race to see who can get a Billboard Number One first and, who they can get impresario Kirshner to sing it?
Bronté Barbé is brilliant as Carole whose marriage to Gerry sadly breaks down before she finally grows into a tremendously talented solo artist. Barbé's vocals are absolutely spot on and she finishes with numbers from the platinum-selling Tapestry album which topped the charts across the globe. I felt Barbé's singing and performance at the piano was so good and looked so authentic that it was hard to believe that she wasn't actually miming to a Carole King soundtrack!
I also loved Parry's performance as Gerry Goffin who had a wandering eye for the ladies – popular American soloists Janelle and Marilyn Wald in particular! Those two dalliances was to finally break up the marriage which had produced two daughters. Goffin was also to suffer a mental breakdown yet he still delivered his lyrics and worked hard to make them touch people's emotions.
When it comes to Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann respectively, they are such a fantastic pairing that you could almost script another musical about them!
Richardson has a really powerful voice and she really shines in He's Sure The Boy I Love while her opening gambit is a reworked Happy Days Are Here Again which impresses Donnie Kirshner enough for him to take her on his payroll.
Equally talented is Gonsalves whose rendition of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (made famous by Eric Burden and The Animals) while playing an electric Gibson guitar, plus his great duet with Cynthia in Walking In The Rain, were real audience pleasers. Also worthy of mention is Carol Royle who plays Carole King’s mum Genie and who, as a typical Jewish matriarch, delivers several witty one liners.
Other members of the talented ensemble seemed to turn their hand to anything, for at any given moment they immediately transform into The Drifters (On Broadway and Up On The Roof) or The Righteous Brother (You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling). Then there's that other legendary performer Neil Sedaka who keeps popping out from behind the curtain with his rendition of Oh! Carole (written by him in honour of Carole King) while dressed in a sparkly jacket and sporting a huge cheesy grin.
Beautiful has so many great songs which simply showcases the talent which came out of Donnie Kirshner's 1650 Broadway New York empire, and with King, Mann, Weil and Kirshner himself joining forces to sing You’ve Got a Friend, that was one of my personal favourites… although it's even better when sung by James Taylor!
Full marks for the 1950s and 60s costumes, the lighting and clever no-nonsense staging while Steve Sidwell's arrangements are absolutely brilliant under the leadership of keyboard-playing musical director Patrick Hurley.
Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, is a really fabulous and rather nostalgic musical which plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this coming Saturday at 7.30pm nightly while there are matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm. For tickets call the Box Office on 0844 871 7652 (booking fees apply) or online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes