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Wednesday 23 May 2018

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour), New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour)
New Wimbledon Theatre
Reviewed on Tuesday 22nd May 2018 by Becca Cromwell 

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is based on the life, trials and tribulations of singer-songwriter and Grammy Award winner Carole King. The story begins in 1950s Brooklyn, where a bright eyed and bushy tailed Carole goes to 1650 Broadway, New York City, to sell her song. Producer Don Kirshner buys the song, and offers her a contract. From there, she meets Gerry Goffin, her soon-to-be husband, and they collaborate on a song. Their collaboration brings them hit after hit and soon enough they are a successful musical duo, with Carole writing the melodies and Gerry writing the lyrics. Things are not always sunny however, as Gerry and Carole divorce and Carole goes on to release her album Tapestry, which won her Grammy awards and allowed her to play a sold out concert at the Carnegie Hall.

Bronté Barbé, gives an incredible performance and Carole. She captures Carole perfectly, from her mannerisms to the recognisable voice. Barbé astounds from the beginning, right through to the very end, giving a performance that must be extremely hard to match night after night.

Gerry Goffin played by Kane Oliver Parry, is a lovable character who makes some big mistakes. Kane plays him brilliantly with astounding vocals.  

Honorable mentions must go to Amy Ellen Richardson, Matthew Gonsalves and Adam Howden, who play Cynthia, Barry and Don respectively. These characters are some of the most important people in Carole’s story, and the portrayal of these characters is excellent. 

Throughout this particular performance, there were unfortunately periods where the singing could not be heard over the volume of the band, which means some of the hits including the Loco Motion and Will You Love Me Tomorrow were not as spectacular as I had hoped. However, the singing that we could hear was extremely good, with harmonies that were marvellous.

The quick changes performed by the ensemble cast are mind-blowing, leaving the audience gasping as they effortlessly switch costumes within seconds. 

The set, designed by Derek McLane, works well within the show. The simplicity of it and the continuous use of the piano allows the actors to truly transport us back to Brooklyn in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I particularly enjoyed the 1650 Broadway set, which served as various offices and performance rooms. 

The entire ensemble give fantastic performances and the show is thoroughly enjoyable. I had high expectations, all of which were met for a fun-filled night out at the theatre. 

Beautiful continues its UK tour into June, so grab your tickets for the final venues whilst you can!

Wednesday 28 February 2018

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour) 
New Victoria Theatre 
Reviewed on Tuesday 27th February 2018 by Olivia Mitchell 

The New Victoria theatre was a buzz last night as an excited audience took their seats to take a trip down memory lane with the sentimental songs of the 60s. I must admit when I sat down I wasn't really a Carole King fan having never really been exposed to her music, but two and a bit hours later I was well and truly a lover of all things Carole and have been playing Tapestry on repeat all morning. 

Beautiful opens with King (played expertly by Bronté Barbé) sitting alone on stage behind a piano and singing her heart out to a packed audience at Carnegie Hall. Suddenly the piano moves out of view and we are thrown into a Brooklyn apartment where a 16 year old Carole with big dreams and songs to sell arrives on stage.

From here we follow Carole through the ups and downs of her life from the energetic teen to mother, wife, divorcee and Grammy award winner. From the opening scene to the very end, Bronté's Carole is endearing, humourous and engaged with the audience. Her incredible voice, acting and spot on accent hold the show up and our hearts really ache whenever Carole experiences a set back.

The show mainly focuses on the relationship between Carole and her husband/lyricist, Gerry Goffin. Played by Kane Oliver Parry, the character is raw and passionate and the chemistry between the pair is compelling to watch. Alongside we see their best friends and writing rivals, Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves) who are comedic as well as being fantastic singers. The rendition of their hit 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' was a standout as well as a clear audience favourite.

Beautiful cleverly transitions from the song-writing to the actual performance with the artists appearing to perform the songs as soon as the final chords and lyrics were written. These moments were humourous as well as being genuinely good and allowed the audience to revel in the delightful music by the likes of The Drifters and The Shirelles.

This production is indeed Beautiful and the perfectly moving, magical, sentimental way to spend a few hours. Myself, my mum and those around us found ourselves smiling throughout, just proving that this show has what it takes to enrapture audiences of all generations.  The talent of Carole King is undeniable and I can't help but think that no 2000s artist will stand the test of time to have a musical made about them in the future! Whether you think you're a fan of Carole or not, you're sure to recognise many of the hits and leave feeling elated, with a new sense of love and appreciation for the songwriting industry.

Beautiful runs at the New Victoria Theatre until March 3rd before continuing it's tour.

Friday 20 September 2019

Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre | Review

Cambridge Theatre 
Reviewed on Wednesday 11th September 2019 by Olivia Mitchell 

On the week of Roald Dahl's birthday, it seems only right that I made a return visit to Matilda to experience the magical story on stage, helmed by a new cast who are bringing it to life with as much energy and wonder as when it opened eight years ago in the West End.

The RSC's production takes aspects of the much-loved original book and film and combines them with theatrical magic to create a show which delights adults and maggots alike. Laughter and beaming smiles fill the Cambridge Theatre as this delightful musical inspires and wows.

Matilda is written by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by the wonderfully wacky Australian, Tim Minchin and direction from Matthew Warchus. The score features intensely catchy melodies and lyrics which are fast, witty and beautiful as well as a book which is filled with humour for adults and children. This combination makes it the perfect treat for the whole family, who will be reminded of the magic and darkness ingrained in Dahl's writing.

The lyrical ingenuity is brought to life through Peter Darling's incredibly precise choreography, which makes use of the entire set and highlights what a well oiled machine this production is. In particular, School Song is a showcase of faultless timing, a stellar cast and innovative lyrics combining in a way which is overwhelmingly wonderful. The entirety of this production is choreographed to the second but each moment still manages to feel fresh and it's clear that the incredibly high standards maintained are what make this show a continual success in London.

Adorned with various alphabet pieces, Rob Howell's set is a star of it's own. Like the characters on stage, each individual piece comes together to create a marvellous wall of colour and interest. Hugh Vanstone's lighting complements the whole production, creating drama and joy and highlighting the contrast between the sweet Matilda, the loud, raucous Wormwood's and terrifying Miss Trunchbull. Extravagance and nuance are used in equal measure to create a pitch perfect piece of theatre.

The cast of this show bring to light just how much talent there is in the West End. Throughout there is not a weak link, and each performance is a stand out in itself. Our young (and tiny) leading lady, Tilly-Raye Bayer is luminous as she rattles through the bold show. Her energy and charisma shine from the outset but she also manages to create intimate moments of peace and sadness. As a character, Matilda is the perfect example of how to get through life. Tenacious, kind and clever, she uses all she has within her to inspire change and bring positivity to those around her. From the young cast, mention must also go to Louie Gray who is astounding as Bruce Bogtrotter.

Sebastian Torkia and Marianne Benedict as Mr and Mrs Wormwood are suitably garish and LOUD. With the pair's fantastic comedic timing they have the audience in hysterics as they show off just how few brain cells they have. Both make their characters bold and slapstick but are tame enough to stop them becoming panto-esque. This is again thanks to the brilliant writing which knows just when to give and take.

As ferocious Miss Trunchbull, Elliot Harper gives his all and his all is certainly enough. There isn't a moment which feels out of character, from repulsive scenes to grossly hilarious comments, Harper brings the headmistress to life exceptionally. With amazing attention to detail and stirring delivery of his dreams of a childless world, Harper is divinely awful.

In contrast Gina Beck is wonderfully understated and, as her name suggests, sweet. The relationship between Matilda and her teacher is touching and the audience really root for the pair. As the Doctor and various other characters Kane Oliver Parry shines vocally. Every single adult performer gives a super sleek performance as they bring multiple characters to life and perform the choreography with pin-stripe precision. Extremely well characterised, they create a real body of sound and action and imbue the show with magic. It should also be noted that Matt Krzan is fantastically flamboyant as Rudolpho; Gemma Scholes is the definition of grace as the Acrobat; and Georgia Carling, Connor Lewis and Ben Kerr really shine in their ensemble tracks. 

In fact, the whole Matilda cast really are Miracles and this is a production you must see at once. Teaching us to be ourselves, stand together, use our imaginations and fight for what we believe in, this is the perfect anecdote to the troubles and worries we face during the current social climate. Take a trip to Crunchem Hall and experience the chocolate box of joy that Matilda provides.

Matilda is currently booking at the Cambridge Theatre, tickets are available at

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour)
Grand Opera House, Belfast
Reviewed on Tuesday 24th October 2017 by Damien Murray

The major appeal of this extremely popular biographical musical is that its subject, Carole King, really is a cross-generational artist, performer, singer, songwriter … and her eventful – but not always successful or happy - life provided a human story that connects to many of its audience every bit as much as her commercial and popular songs.

As a jukebox musical, this show can’t fail to impress with a score composed of classic hit after classic hit from all periods of King’s phenomenal career as both a writer/co-writer and, eventually, as a performer.

While the bulk of the hits are from her younger days, this show is a particular crowd-pleaser for anyone born in the late 40s and early 60s, but – so commercial are the songs – it also manages to successfully cross the generations to engage even with the youth of today who may be hearing them for the first time.

However, there is a bit more depth to this musical than just the songs, as King’s story is that of a young and ambitious teenage girl, who never set out to be a singer and who was as surprised as everyone else by her own success.

According to music impresario, Donnie Kirshner – perfectly played by Adam Howden as a no-nonsense boss who knew the business and who demanded results– the key to her success as a writer was that she was a teen who wrote songs for teens and she was a girl who wrote songs for girls… and it was teen girls who were buying most records at that time.

Like a typical Brooklyn teen with no fear, King – played so well by understudy, Leigh Lothian, in the absence of Bronté Barbé (due to a family bereavement) – jumped head first into the competitive music game as a staff writer for Kirshner’s songwriting business, 1650 Broadway, where she met her perfect husband and co-writer, Gerry Goffin, plus life-long friends and fellow song-writing team, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, with each providing friendly rivalry measured in ‘hit’ scoring over one another. This, of course, was a great excuse to also feature many of this duo’s hit successes, too, including You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, Walking In The Rain and We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place.

In the lead role, Leigh Lothian, captured all of King’s emotions, moods, weaknesses and strengths, from being an ambitious and fearless teen, to coping with a teenage pregnancy, an unfaithful husband, her husband’s nervous breakdown and the eventual breakdown of her marriage, displaying strength, patience, forgiveness and loss of confidence before re-inventing herself as one of the world’s most successful female singers. 

Kane Oliver Parry, as Gerry Goffin, didn’t quite convince me that he was so troubled by his domestic and work pressures that they drove him into the arms of other women, but he displayed the kind of charm that the character must have had to keep King by his side for so long after his first affair and to be able to initiate so many affairs in the first place. I loved the chemistry between Amy Ellen Richardson’s pushy, confident and patient Cynthia Weil and Matthew Gonsalves’ Barry Mann; the impatient and always ailing hypochondriac.

This was a well-dressed production with authentic fashions of the day stretching right down to the girls sporting ‘Alice Bands’ on their heads, while the well-used, dual-level set helped to keep the pace fast with slick and quick scene changes.

The performance of the actual songs throws up some interesting observations – firstly, some are just parts of songs, and, due to the nature of the story about songwriters (as opposed to performers), some are raw or early rough examples of the finished and more polished hits that we have grown up to love.

So, although you will enjoy the story, don't expect to hear the songs as you would know them from the records as they are often performed ‘in context’ and do not always sound like the hits – I feel if you are pre-warned about this, then you won't be disappointed!

However, one small criticism/observation about this show was the overly exaggerated choreographic moves that could best be described as ‘dodgy dancing’ by ‘the Drifters’ These were greeted with laughter leaving me confused as to whether this was a comical send-up of the ‘dancing’ of the male vocal groups of the era or simply questionable choreography that didn’t get the desired result.

It was genius to stage a bio musical of this chart-topping music legend who penned material for the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Monkees, The Drifters and The Shirelles as this totally hit-filled show features many of those songs, including Take Good Care Of My Baby, You’ve Got A Friend, So Far Away, It Might As Well Rain Until September, Up On The Roof and The Locomotion with ‘character’ performances by The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva, The Righteous Brothers and even a Neil Sedaka cameo appearance.

It is true, Carole King wrote songs that girls, and women, can relate to and the final two in this show – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Beautiful – proved to be popular and inspirational anthems for the mostly female audience.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs at the Grand Opera House until October 28th before continuing its tour.

Friday 6 April 2018

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour), Bristol Hippodrome | Review

Beautiful (UK Tour) 
Bristol Hippodrome
Reviewed on Wednesday 5th April 2018 by Isobelle Desbrow

Picture the scene, Carnegie Hall 1971. Carole King played by Bronté Barbé sitting at the piano not expecting this many people to be watching her before playing a short rendition of ‘So far Away’ before rewinding the story back 14 years to wear it all began.

We see the geeky, nervousness of Carole as she enters the offices of Donnie Kirshner played by Adam Howden. From the get go I’m unable to fault Bronté for her ability to sing and speak in the difficult Brooklyn accent, something which as the play progresses we see change and morph into the Carol King voice we know and love today.

Once back at school Carole meets the popular Gerry Goffin played by Kane Oliver Parry. They quickly become writing partners, lovers and then parents. You couldn’t fault either of them as they both show genuine affection for one another.
Fast forward to the arrival of the loud spoken Cynthia Weil who would not take no for an answer; loud and seductive, Amy Ellen Richardson plays her brilliantly and is a stand out of the show. Once she’d met the hypochondriac Barry Mann played by Matthew Gonsalves the pair become fascinatingly brilliant to watch.
The music of the era really shines through as they include such artists as The Drifters, Shirelles, Little Eva, Janelle and The Righteous Brothers. The ensemble do a fantastic job creating all the songs and making us feel as though we're transported back in time.
The standing ovation at the end really did do the cast justice; as they had given a performance to remember. Beautiful certainly deserves to be seen!
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until April 7th.

Thursday 10 May 2018

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour), New Theatre Oxford | Review

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK Tour) 
New Theatre Oxford
Reviewed on Tuesday 8th May 2018 by Nick Fisher

Carole King rightly occupies a place in the pantheon of great American songwriters and this lively production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, is a fitting tribute to her musical legacy. 

The performance begins with King, propelled to stardom by her solo album ‘Tapestry’, sitting at her piano in Carnegie Hall. All too quickly, we are taken back to her teenage years, living with Mum in a Manhattan apartment striving to become a songwriter. She is revealed as a slightly awkward yet determined teenager who meets her future writing partner and husband, Gerry Goffin, when studying education at college. After she becomes pregnant, the pair marry and embark on their career as hit-makers for Don Kirsher known as the ‘man with the golden ear’ who made stars of King, Neil Diamond and Neil Sedaka amongst others. 

We are taken at a rapid clip through some classics including, ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ originally performed by the Drifters, ‘Will you Love Me Tomorrow’ by the Shirelles and ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling by Barry Mann and the Righteous Brothers. The show portrays vividly the look and feel of Kirshner’s song-writing factory, a rabbit warren of cubicles inhabited by young writers, desperate to write hits for the Billboard 100. At the factory, the pair meet friends and competitors, lyricist Cynthia Weil and composer Barry Mann. The witty and smart Weil and the comic, charming Mann, provide a light-hearted secondary duo who are destined to live happily ever after. Indeed, the pair have been married since 1961 which is in sharp contrast to King and Goffin who both remarried 3 times following their divorce. In fact, it is during this intensely productive period at the factory when the first cracks appear in their relationship. Goffin’s desire to stay out every night to immerse himself in the music scene conflicts with King’s desire for domesticity coupled with an intense desire to make it as a songwriter. 

In Act 2, we are taken, albeit it at a slightly slower pace, from 1962, with ‘Chains’ initially released by the Cookies and in 1963, covered by the Beatles. We are then treated to some classics, ‘Walking in the Rain’, and ‘It’s Too Late’, culminating in a wonderful rendition of ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman’ originally recorded one year before her divorce from Goffin in 1968. The final scene takes us back to the Carnegie Hall show in 1971, the year when King released her seminal solo album, Tapestry, one of the best-selling albums of all time. It is at this point when Goffin makes a final appearance. The pair had lost contact since King’s move to Los Angeles in 1968 and Goffin takes the opportunity to express his appreciation of how much she had achieved in her career. It doesn’t matter if this actually happened, it portrays a deep love and respect for the woman and the writer. In any case, in a statement following his death in 2014, King described Goffin as her ‘first love’ and how he had a ‘profound impact’ on her life. 

Overall, this is a rip-roaring musical roller coaster ride. The quality of the music, led by Musical Director Patrick Hurley, really cannot be faulted, from the tight harmonies and wonderful choreography in Act 1 to the evocative songs in Act 2. This is not a history lesson in any sense even though this is a period rich in social and political change including the racial integration of the University of Alabama in 1963 and the height of the Vietnam War in the early 70s. Was King affected by these momentous events and did it affect her music? Almost certainly, but at the end of the day it was Goffin’s lyrics which serve as a narrative for the time. 

This brings us to the performances. Bronté Barbé is superb as Carole King. Her voice is captivating and her performance of Natural Woman was incredibly moving and captured perfectly a tumultuous stage in King’s marriage to Goffin. Playing Goffin was Kane Oliver Parry who had a palpable chemistry with Barbé. Nevertheless, his Brooklyn accent was unconvincing and needs more work. 

Almost eclipsing Barbé was Amy Ellen Richardson as Cynthia Weil. She brought maturity and depth to the role including stand-out performances in ‘Walking in the Rain’ and ‘He’s sure the Boy I Love’. Her partner, Barry Mann was sensitively played by Matthew Gonsalves and he introduced some moments of real humour. 

Carole King will always be a shining star of world music. She has written or co-written over 400 songs recorded by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross and the Beatles. She has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, recorded 25 solo albums, the second of which, ‘Tapestry’ remained at the top of the Billboard 100 for a record-breaking 15 weeks. Come to this performance, stick some dimes into the jukebox and join the baby boomers dancing in the aisles in celebration of a cultural icon. 

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is at the New Theatre Oxford until 11th May 2018