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Beautiful—The Carole King Musical
Congress Theatre, Eastbourne
Theatre performance, Tuesday 11 February —Saturday 15 February 2020
Reviewer: Michael Racher, for the Pevensey Bay Journal

Scheduled for 7:30pm it took another ten minutes before the first notes sounded and I wondered whether the number might be altered to ‘It’s too late’ but things began with Carole King (Daisy Wood-Davis), at Carnegie Hall, playing and singing ‘So far away’.

She played a few bars and went into an aside about how she didn’t intend to ever be performing herself as she just wanted to write the music.

Then off we go into a late 50’s/60’s nostalgia musical orgy up to her 1971 seminal album (Tapestry) some of these songs being used in the musical, though sadly only a snippet of the title track.

The first act follows King’s song-writing career as well as her relationship with future husband Gerry Goffin (Adam Gillian).

Most of the songs reflect Goffin’s inability to cope with his personal demons and the stresses of married life.

The penultimate song ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling’ forebodes the end of the act with the marriage all but over.

Goffin and King’s reputation is well deserved but the other main characters, Cynthia Weil (Laura Baldwin) and Barry Mann (Cameron Sharp) are represented as the hit-writing opposition.

Their songs are probably worthy of a stage production though the couple’s story appears to lack the extremes that drive this musical but check them out, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Act two is the inevitable build up to the completion of Tapestry and the Carnegie Hall concert with the final few songs, ‘You’ve got a friend’, ‘A natural woman’ and to bring the curtain down ‘Beautiful’.

The songs get progressively sung with increased passion and the entire cast bring the show to an end with the encore, though in a senior moment I’m not 100% certain but most probably ‘I feel the earth move’.

It’s at this point our suspicions about the instrument playing capabilities of the cast are confirmed when the head of the musical director pops up and he makes gestures to, presumably, other musicians in a pit directly in front of the stage.

If you observe it, which I hope you don’t, it’s fairly obvious that the keys on the piano don’t move.

I did notice but, the songs are the hero of the night and they’re all sung well and with lots of enthusiasm, especially by the ensemble cast, who are the backbone of the show.

My only complaint is the appearance of a Neil Sedaka look-a-like in two brief, comic relief, glimpses during act one.

I wanted more, though on the whole there was quite a lot of humour, in the dramatic scenes, which made the production skip along at a healthy pace.

With the songs being so well known, I had wondered whether the audience might join in some of the numbers but we all remained silent, apart from applause after each song and a partial standing ovation at the end, the choice is yours.

I would point out that the music did occasionally overpower the singing, so any effort on your part might not even be noticed, but you’d only need one hand to count the occasions.

Here’s a thought for you to ponder.

If Carole King had been a millennial or later would her songs have been as successful?

I believe they would have been different but someone with that talent will always stand out.

As you can probably tell, I liked it, quite a lot.

If you wish to see the musical contact the box office 01323 412000 or you can try the tourist information office, in Cornfield Road 01323 415415. Evening performances begin at about 7:30pm and the matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2:30pm, but hurry because it finishes this Saturday evening. For those of you who are being picked up, after the show, the performance lasts about two hours thirty minutes.

Michael Racher
Pevensey Bay Journal

Michael Racher is a writer living and working in Pevensey Bay. He lives in Val Prinseps Road, once home to Val Prinseps, painter, playwright and novelist. He is currently working on a science fantasy novel which takes a journey through time.