Theatre review: Beautiful at Aldwych Theatre

This jukebox jive skims the surface, says Bridget Galton.

This superior jukebox musical both entertains and frustrates at the way it skims over the complexity of its central character.

Based on the early life of singer-songwriter Carole King, its focus is her hugely productive decade in Don Kirshner’s New York hit factory, writing pop songs with husband Gerry Goffin for The Drifters, Bobby Vee, and The Shirelles.

On Derek McLane’s industrial-style set the joint is humming with musicians and writers turning out hummable teen hits: Up on the Roof, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, The Loco-Motion, Take Good Care of My Baby, and by their friendly rivals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’.

Enjoyably staged with loving attention to 60s costumes and dance, it’s underpinned by the terminally dowdy King’s yearning for a quiet family life in the suburbs with Goffin.

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Just as these gorgeously trite tunes are commercially and artistically overtaken by writers like Dylan and The Beatles, the pain of Goffin’s mental health issues and infidelities lead to King’s Grammy-grabbing 1971 break-up album Tapestry.

It’s truly uplifting to see Katie Brayben’s hard-working sensible Carole step into the limelight and find her voice in these soulful folk tunes You’ve Got A Friend, It’s Too Late, and You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.

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Their message of female self expression and self-determination defined a decade, but despite Douglas McGrath’s witty book and good support from Glynis Barber as King’s acerbic Jewish mum, the woman who wrote them remains essentially unexplored. The real King had four husbands and combined career with teen motherhood, but you get few of her struggles or imperfections. And as with all jukebox musicals, the songs aren’t woven into the fabric of the show but tend to halt the action for another showstopper.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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