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Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

A solitary piano sits centre-stage on a purple-lit mock up of New York's Carnegie Hall circa mid 1970s at the opening of Douglas McGrath's loving dramatic homage to Carole King. The precociously talented Brooklyn teenager churned out pop gems before stepping into the spotlight to help define an era. When Bronte Barbe's Carole breaks off mid-way through So Far Away, from her multi-million selling 1971 album, Tapestry, to reflect on her success, her un-starry kookiness is as Me-Generation as it gets.

Once King's past rewinds in this touring version of Marc Bruni's production, McGrath's script moves into the songwriting factory at 1650 Broadway., where her writing partner and first husband Gerry Goffin compete with contemporaries Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Illustrating King's rise are the songs themselves, performed by passable facsimiles of the Drifters, the Shirelles etc, as if head-lining an all-star variety night.

Kane Oliver Parry, Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves give a set of appealingly peppy turns as Goffin, Weil and Mann respectively. But this is Barbe's show, as she invests King with a gawky vulnerability tailor-made for the big screen.

It is the second half where the gang really find their voices in what, with its assorted splits, breakdowns and King's eventual emancipation, becomes a coming of age. This isn't just for King and co, but of post World War Two pop music itself and the society its growing pains reflected. Like Goffin's lyrics, McGrath's script keeps things simple and direct, and is presented with sass and wit. As with King's canon overall, Beautiful wears its heart on its sleeve with a depth that goes beyond the froth to capture King's pop life in all its soul-baring light and shade.

The Herald, December 4th 2017

ends

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