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The Drifters propelled various Carole King-Gerry Goffin hits up the charts

The Drifters propelled various Carole King-Gerry Goffin hits up the charts

Two-time Tony Award-winning bio-musical Beautiful, based on the early life and career of singer-songwriter Carole King, received its West End premiere at the Aldwych Theatre last night. What did the critics and other press say about the show, leading lady Katie Brayben and King’s own emotional curtain call? All here – plus my own thoughts…


My childhood is littered with family road trips that clocked up miles to an eight-track soundscape. I grew up listening to the likes of John Denver, Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel and James Taylor – so much James Taylor – and without knowing it Carole King. Taylor’s 1971 version of King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, a Number One hit, was my go-to song on myriad occasions.

One of the greatest delights when watching Beautiful at the Aldwych Theatre was not just hearing so many great songs from my youth again – but hearing how differently they sound from initial conception to finished interpretation by the artists, such as Taylor, who first made them famous.

In the 1960s, composer King and her lyricist-husband-writing partner Gerry Goffin created hit after hit for The Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”) The Drifters (“Some Kind of Wonderful”, “Up on the Roof”), The Chiffons (“One Fine Day”), The Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”) and even their babysitter Little Eva (“The Loco-motion”).

In Beautiful, the answer here to the oft-asked question “what comes first, the words or the music?” is sometimes one, sometimes the other

In Beautiful, we get a sneak peek into the creative process between composer and lyricist (the answer here to the oft-asked question “what comes first, the words or the music?” is sometimes one, sometimes the other) and it’s thrilling hearing the first stabs at these songs followed by full-throated and slickly choreographed performances by Beautiful’s bigger-than-life ensemble.

Katie Brayben as Carole King in Beautiful at the West End's Aldwych Theatre

Katie Brayben as Carole King in Beautiful at the West End’s Aldwych Theatre

The show’s sub-title, “The Carole King Musical”, is a bit of a misnomer, and slightly disrespectful to the other artists portrayed. King wasn’t working in isolation, and owes much to the troubled Goffin (sympathetically played by Alan Morrissey) as well as friends and rival writing team, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (the spirited Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh), whose own hits – also in the show – include “On Broadway” (The Drifters again), “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (The Righteous Brothers) and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (The Animals).

At the centre of it all, despite some questionable early fashion choices and very dodgy wigs, is Katie Brayben, giving a barn-storming performance as Carole King herself

Incidentally, while King went on to record her own songs, and accumulate Grammys in the process, Goffin, who passed away last June, didn’t exactly slip away into oblivion after their divorce in 1968. With other writing partners after King, including notably Michael Masser, he wrote such classics as “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” (for Diana Ross), “Saving All My Love for You” (Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr), and “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” (Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson).

So much great music to celebrate. And, at the centre of it all in Beautiful, despite some questionable early fashion choices and very dodgy wigs, is London-native Katie Brayben, giving a barn-storming performance as Carole King herself. As the show culminates in King’s California-bound, post-divorce creative blossoming, we get Brayben finding her confidence, claiming her voice and belting out King solo hits “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “It’s Too Late” and – yes, thank you – “You’ve Got a Friend”.

That really is Some Kind of Wonderful.

Beautiful is currently booking at the West End’s Aldwych Theatre until 13 June 2015.

 

 


OVERNIGHT REVIEWS

THE TIMES = FOUR STARS

Dominic Cavendish: What a thoroughly pleasant night at the theatre this is. That might sound like a forked compliment for this imported Broadway musical about Carole King but it’s not…

EVENING STANDARD = FOUR STARS

Henry Hitchings: This a great showcase for Lewisham native Katie Brayben. Without exactly capturing the qualities of King’s voice and performance style, she sounds authentic and appealing…

DAILY MAIL = FOUR STARS

Quentin Letts: They don’t erect statues to living people but no such qualms exist in musical theatre. This tribute to Carole King is a prime example, and Katie Brayben truly grows into the part…

INDEPENDENT = FOUR STARS

Paul Taylor: Katie Brayben gives a wonderfully endearing performance that seems to soar beyond mere impersonation as it communicates King’s warmth, modesty and self-deprecating humour…

GUARDIAN = THREE STARS

Michael Billington: Fans of the singer-songwriter Carole King may be happy just to hear a replay of her biggest hits in Marc Bruni’s efficient re-creation of his original Broadway hit…

TIMEOUT = THREE STARS

Andrzej Lukowski: The Brits love an underdog. The Yanks love a winner. And Carole King was both. But despite the beautiful songs, the problem is King’s life was really boring…

DAILY TELEGRAPH = THREE STARS

Dominic Cavendish: It’s a funny kind of musical in which the leading performance feels like a massive redeeming feature, rather than part and parcel of what makes the show special…

THE STAGE = THREE STARS

Mark Shenton: The Broadway transfer of Beautiful is an all-too-conventional bio-musical, but one that is thrillingly elevated by Katie Brayben’s stellar performance as leading lady Carole King…


NEWS: CAROLE KING, TOM CRUISE & THE GRAMMYS

CAROLE KING PRAISES WEST END PREMIERE: I LAUGHED, I DANCED, I CRIED

Carole King, 73, won a standing ovation as she led a performance of You’ve Got A Friend. She paid emotional tribute to Katie Brayben, who plays her in the show, and to her late husband Gerry Goffin…

BEAUTIFUL PREMIERES WITH SURPRISE VISIT FROM CAROLE KING

With the cast onstage for curtain calls, and her lifelong friends but onetime rival songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil at her side, King, 73, choking with emotion, paid tribute to Gerry Goffin…

KING REMEMBERS LATE HUSBAND AT WEST END PREMIERE

Carole King choked back tears as she remembered her late partner Gerry Goffin onstage at the London launch of Broadway stage musical Beautiful, based on her life and songs…

TOM CRUISE AT BEAUTIFUL: TAKE ONE

Mission Impossible? How many cast members of the London production of Beautiful can fit into a #theatreselfie with Tom Cruise? Answer: quite a few…

TOM CRUISE AT BEAUTIFUL: TAKE TWO

On his recent visit, Cruise got even more up close and personal with Beautiful stars Alan Morrissey, Gary Trainor, Glynis Barber, Katie Brayben, Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh…

BEAUTIFUL AT THE GRAMMYS: TAKE ONE

The Broadway cast recording of Beautiful won the Grammy Award for musical theatre album earlier this month. Broadway star Jessie Mueller sang with King. Jealous, Katie Brayben?

BEAUTIFUL AT THE GRAMMYS: TAKE TWO

The winner of Best Musical Theater Album at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards is… Beautiful: The Carole King Musical! Another King doppelganger – that’s Mueller again – looks pretty happy about it!


INTERVIEWS: KATIE BRAYBEN

WHO ELSE MAKES KATIE’S PLAYLIST?

In Desert Island Discs mode, Katie Brayben chooses not just her favourite Carole King songs, but others from her childhood, first romance, happiest memories and more for OLT’s Playlist feature…

KATIE IS DAUNTED BUT EXCITED TO PLAY CAROLE KING

Katie Brayben is a familiar face on the West End. After King Charles III, she’s glad to be in another musical: “There is nothing like a character expressing their inner thoughts through song”…

KATIE ON KING: CAROLE IS MY IDOL

Katie is ‘privileged’ to play her idol Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters in pop music history. And even more thrilled that, according to King, Katie captures her very ‘essence’…

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