Beautiful – the Carole King musical sounded like a show right up my street the first time I heard about it. It made me go “Female Jersey Boys!” which – as those who know me will be aware of – is praise coming from me.
The Show has been running in London for a while but I only just managed to check it out. And what can I say? I left slightly disappointed. This has nothing to do with the cast – something I want to point out straight away.
Joanna Woodward who was on for Carole King the day I watched the show is quite simply wonderful. She has a marvelous voice and really manages to capture both the innocence of young Carole as well as the development from teenage girl to wife, mother and successful artist.
Alan Morrissey is a believable Gerry Goffin (Carole’s partner both personally and professionally). However, the male star of the show is Ian McIntosh (Barry Mann) who steals the show in most of his scenes. I just wish he had more to sing – his voice is one of the best in the West End and it seems a waste to only give him such small bits of solo singing.
Then there is Lorna Want as Cynthia Weil who is feisty, funny, likeable and just all around fantastic. She and Ian McIntosh work particularly well together – a pure joy to watch.
The rest of the supporting cast and ensemble do well with the material they’ve been given.
The songs are well-known and definitely crowd pleasers. I enjoyed hearing them sung live by such a talented cast. Personally I would have preferred less songs in general but those songs in a full version instead of hearing what felt like a million song snippets though.
So, we have a great cast and great songs. Then why did I not enjoy the show as much as I hoped I would? The answer is: The story. While I find Jersey Boys gripping and well done in terms of narrative and plot development I ended up slightly bored watching Beautiful. The story is predictable and the same things seem to happen over and over again. Plus I simply could not connect with any of the characters.
Basically the show seems to be about Carole King writing a song whenever something happens in her life. She falls in love – she writes a song. She gets married – she writes a song. She has a baby – she writes a song. Her husband cheats on her – she writes a song. It just goes on and on without any proper dramatic tension in my opinion. Plus everything happens so fast there is no time to really get to know the characters. On top of that the two main characters just seem to make choices in their life that makes it hard for me to feel for them. Gerry Goffin might have his problems but we don’t learn much about them apart from him freaking out with no warning. And he is openly cheating on his wife and still expects sympathy. Then there is Carole King who lets her husband cheat on her not once but twice. If I knew more about his psychological problems and their general situation I might be able to understand Carole’s motives but since I don’t she just seems unreasonable to me. Or maybe I just have no sympathy for women who let their husband cheat on them (knowingly, I might add – he asked permission the first time!) and then make a big fuss when it happens again later on.
I don’t mind light entertainment and I certainly don’t mind jukebox musicals. But Beautiful is telling a life story and I wish it would do the characters more justice by giving them a well put together narrative and good character development.
However, I do understand why Beautiful appeals to people. If you take it as a night out listening to Carole King’s greatest hits it certainly is a nice show. And it is perfectly fine to be happy with that. For me what Beautiful has to offer just isn’t enough.
As always I do urge you to go and make up your own mind – if only to see so much talent on one stage. Beautiful is playing at the Aldwych Theatre. For more info and to book tickets go to: http://beautifulmusical.co.uk/