My first initial thoughts on attending a musical about Carole King were, how can it be possible to tell the story of arguably the most iconic female songwriter of all time? Now, I am not of the generation who would have grown up listening to Carole King but her music has always been a solace for me, in particular the multi-platinum album Tapestry. This story told her humble beginnings and first foray into the music industry which really gave all those songs we have come to love so much context.
We journeyed back to the late 1950s where Carole King was defying the era’s expectations of women and her mother’s, she was pioneering career women and she didn’t even know. Her undeniable talent was hard to ignore even in a man’s world and she hit a market where music publisher Donnie Kirschner played with great charisma and charm by Adam Howden, known as ‘The Man With The Golden Ear’ recognised Carole’s ability to write smash hits for the targeted teen market as part of the iconic ‘Brill Building Sound’. However we discover that King’s talent was truly allowed to flourish when she began songwriting with Gerry Goffin. Their first love, love story enabled them to tune into the real emotions they were experiencing for each other. Their breakthrough hit ’Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ is still today regarded as one of the best of their collaborations and has been covered by many different artists including the late great Amy Winehouse.
One of the most exciting aspects of the show was the way in which the hits King and Goffin created for other artists such as The Drifters, Bobby Vee, The Shirelles, The Chiffons, came to life by an incredible supporting cast who transformed into the legendary bands. I felt transported back to the 60s era where incredible vocals and dance moves were magically in sync; it was hard to keep still! I still am amazed how these two childhood sweethearts were able to find so much maturity in their lyrics and melody and cope with the pressures of being a young married couple bringing up a baby. This strain did start to show when we discovered that Goffin was unable to keep up with the pressure of scoring hit after hit and issues of mental health and infidelity began to creep in.
The iconic music could not be performed without the incredible vocal talent of Brontè Barbè playing King, who started out as a contestant on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Over The Rainbow BBC talent show. Kane Oliver Parry played Gerry Goffin who transformed himself into Goffin and both Parry and Barbè were able to find that magic chemistry of the dynamic duo. However, the success that became their strength in their career came at the expense of their personal lives when they later divorced in 1968. It was great to see the subplot of co-writers to King and Goffin; Cynthia Weil and Barry Man, who penned the hit for The Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”. These two reluctant lovers were able to hit the stride of hits together like King and Goffin did when they fell in love.
The strength in this show is that it is built on the strong foundations that Goffin, King, Mann-Weil were all instrumental and on board with the creation of the show and that foundation has built into not just a medley of outstanding songs from a magical songwriting time, but the narrative of finding success and the inevitable perils that can come with that are not just glazed over but told with purpose and conviction.
This show unlike many musicals in honour of well- known musicians is able to connect to the audience every step of the way and not lose pace. It invites you in to experience the story and not just provide you with a history lesson. The connection you are able to feel to Carole King and her music lies in the relatability she resonates with everyday people. We understand what it’s like to find the joy of falling in love, the heartbreak of falling out of love and the evolution of growing up and finding your identity. I am certain that her music will stand the test of time for decades to come.
Beautiful-The Carole King Musical is at Wales Millennium Centre until 4th November.