As you may have been aware if you follow my theatrical musings on here or Twitter (@kerrien_270811 just in case you’d like to follow me, by the way), August was a particularly special month for me in terms of stagey shenanigans. I had the honour of seeing one of my favourite actors in an incredible production of one of my two all-time favourite Shakespeare plays, and watched a glorious production of the musical that began my love and passion for the genre in the wonderful surroundings of Regents Park. August was also a month I resolved to try and see more shows that are new to me, so I was already doing quite well on that front with these two shows. As a gift from my wonderful friend and fellow theatre enthusiast and blogger Olivia (@TOABlueEyedGirl), I also had my first chance to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at The Aldwych. It was a show that had been on my ‘must see’ list since it first opened, so a big thanks to you, Liv!
My taste in music makes me despair at the fact I am a 90’s child, much of my favourite music comes from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and it amuses me no end that said taste is not something I have thanks to my parents, or that I share with the majority of my friends. As such, you could say that Beautiful was going to be right up my street from the word go, as I was familiar with Carole King and some of her music beforehand. Having said that, I had no idea of how prolific a songwriter she was, and that many of the songs that have become staples for many artists over the years and known widely today including: Natural Woman, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Some Kind of Wonderful and You’ve Got A Friend were written by her and her partner (both personally and professionally), Gerry Goffin. I expected to go in knowing say… three or four of the songs used, but I recognised all of all but two, including the ones written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, the other couple we see in the show. Beautiful chronicles the early life of Carole King, from her teenage years as an aspiring songwriter, her whirlwind relationship with Gerry, friendships with Barry & Cynthia and the highs and lows of her early career. I left inspired by her spirit and determination, and also thankful that she had chosen to share her gift for creating awesome music with the world so audiences like me can hear and see her story as it is here. Not only that, I was incredibly inspired by the talent I was seeing bring the story to life and left the theatre feeling totally joyous and uplifted.
Both Katie Brayben and Alan Morrissey were off on this occasion, so I saw Joanna Woodward as Carole, and Joel Harper Jackson as Gerry. This show was my second opportunity to see Joanna on stage, but the first in a leading role. I felt she brings great warmth, sensitivity and grace to Carole and was charmed by her relentless energy and charisma. That’s before we even get to her singing voice, and by god the girl has some pipes! I had ridiculous goosebumps and shed tears on many an occasion as she sang, purely because I was so moved; the only time I have had a reaction that profound to a female performer is seeing Beverley Knight in The Bodyguard and Memphis, so it’s safe to say I think Joanna is insanely talented and it was my joy and honour to see her light up the stage.
Joel radiated wonderfully endearing charisma as Gerry, and was able to bring out all the changing elements of Gerry’s personality with great tenacity and sincerity. I felt he and Joanna shared wonderful chemistry even in the darker moments of their relationship, and it was a pleasure to watch them develop in their performances just as Carole and Gerry grow and change as a couple. Speaking to Joanna after the show, I was amazed to learn that Joel is a Swing and second cover for the role of Gerry, and doesn’t have the chance to perform the track that often. If she hadn’t mentioned this, I never would have guessed, so impressive was his performance! That said, I’d like to give a shout out to the entire cast including Ensemble & Swings who are, I can tell from this single visit alone, one of the slickest, most energetic and passionate casts I’ve ever encountered.
Lorna Want was a new face for me as Cynthia Weil, and she was a delight from start to end, I was struck by her infectious energy and enthusiasm. Her Cynthia is joined by Ian McIntosh as Barry Mann, who charmed me utterly both vocally and in his acting. Their pairing is perhaps the relief to the drama of Carole and Gerry’s relationship, but also has moments of heartwarming vulnerability; Lorna and Ian play both sides with ease and are tremendous fun to watch, both as a duo and individuals.
Before I’d seen Beautiful, I’d heard mixed things; some of my friends raved about it, others weren’t so keen and felt the storytelling was fragmented and they couldn’t feel invested emotionally because it wasn’t developed enough. However, my reaction to Beautiful reminded me how important it is to go and make your own mind up; Jukebox musicals in my experience are the Marmite of the theatrical world. My favourite show is one such Jukebox musical, and I’ve seen some others that remind me why people may not like them. There were moments I wished were extended and developed more, and I wish certain songs were heard in their entirety instead of just snippets, but that seems to be the nature of the Jukebox beast. I’m pleased to report however, that Beautiful falls firmly into the former camp, and with cast change looming including the arrival of a favourite gent of mine, I sense I’ll be setting up my stagey base camp at the Aldwych for a fair while yet 😉