Brisbane was treated to a ‘beautiful’ night celebrating the music of Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann at the opening night of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre on Thursday 19 July. The new Broadway musical with a book by Douglas McGrath and direction by Marc Bruni premiered on the Great White Way in 2014 to rave reviews and Carole King’s story was ‘beautifully’ staged to make its way to Australian audiences late 2017.
Winner of 5 Helpmann Awards including Best Musical, the Australian cast delivered a nostalgic and fun performance telling the tale of Carole King (Klein, her family name) as she grew up loving music, but her mother wanted her to become a teacher and not a songwriter. Carole went with her best friend Betty, played by fun loving newcomer Stefanie Caccamo, to 1650 Broadway to get her new song signed by American Music Publisher, Donny Kirshner.
Whilst studying she met her future song writing partner and husband, Gerry Goffin. The two instantly fell for each other in the most picturesque way as she wrote the music and he was the lyricist for the most well-known pop hits of the 60s and 70s. The show follows their story of love and heartbreak intertwined with their friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s journey to success. It is a musical feast for the ears, hearing the wonderful story of how these classic toe-tapping and soul – searching songs, came to life.
Helpmann Award winning Best Actress, Esther Hannaford, embodied the greatness of Carole King to her absolute core. Her portrayal was devastatingly and gorgeously human in every sense of the word. As she navigated and tried to tap into what Carole went through in her life and career, she definitely succeeded as her soul is poured out on stage. This is especially exemplified in the way she sings the solely Carole written songs. ‘So far away’ at the top of Act 1 begins to show us the kind of performer Esther is, that she cares about the way she seeps emotion in to every single song. You feel the melancholy in her voice singing about a love that is physically and emotionally distant.
Through her different relationships in the show you see how she is careful with each one. The biggest takeaway in the show is friendship for Carole and all of the principal characters. But her relationship with her husband Gerry Goffin, is the most powerful and memorable one for me. The most heartbreaking moment is at the conclusion of Act 2, when Gerry reveals that he is having an affair with Janelle, a singer they wrote the tune ‘One Fine Day’ for. The first half of the song Janelle belts out and is joyous for the television special and the second half is my favourite individual moment in the entire production. As Esther sings the bridge of the ballad in the most raw and vulnerable state, it just breaks my heart for her character.
Another standout performance by Esther was the uncertainty Carole felt when recording the last song on her album ‘Tapestry’, ‘Natural Woman’. That time is a turning point, as she was afraid to feel the joy of the happiest moments with Gerry again and remember how she was hurt. However it was a major realisation for Carole to know she can move on and have that independence and Esther really shares that with the audience. Especially with her incredible riffs and conclusion of the song. Overall Esther’s performance was breathtakingly honest and true to Carole’s story.
Josh Piterman gives an unmissable performance as Carole’s husband, Gerry Goffin. As soon as the couple meet it’s instantly a match as they fell in love with each other’s talent and love for music. During the creation of ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’, before they played it for Donny Kirshner, Carole revealed she was pregnant with their first child, Louise. Josh depicted his character in the most loving way as he embraced Esther when he asked her to marry him. However, in different points of the show Josh exuded his brilliance as an actor, with the way he executed Gerry’s outbursts. This is also evident when he struggled with the pressure of the entertainment industry and his own psychological problems.
The two couples Carole and Gerry with their songwriting friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil went on a well deserved ski trip to Vermont. Josh’s stuttering and characterisation was particularly memorable in that scene when he lost control whilst having a heated argument with Carole about wanting to have fun and play strip poker, revealing that he feels ‘old’ when he’s with her. It is particularly relevant in ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ performed wonderfully by Naomi Price who also played Marilyn (Gerry’s other affair) and the ‘We gotta get out of this place’ scene.
The end of the musical is a full circle moment for Gerry when he sneaks backstage at Carole’s Carnegie Hall debut. He is improving and shows up for her on her big night. The finale of Gerry’s arc at that point provides that needed closure for Carole at that point in her life. Josh gives great depth and added range to this complex character and it is very deserving of praise, as he says at the beginning and end of the show ‘we’re going all the way.’
Lucy Maunder was the elegant and dignified lyricist, Cynthia Weil. When you first meet Cynthia, she has this incredible authoritative nature and doesn’t take no for an answer. Especially with Don Kirshner when she not only performs her own fun rendition of ‘Happy days are here again’, but captures Carole and Don’s heart. Lucy is an incredible talent with not only an exquisite voice but is one of Australia’s greatest theatre actresses. She knows how to perform and take you on an adventure with fantastic character evolution over the course of the show.
Lucy holds her frame so well and is confident in how she embodies Cynthia, in particular the way her voice sounds like she has been raised with money, but still cares for others. Maunder is vigilant with her different scene partners throughout the story. With Carole, Lucy is free in the way she opened up about her mother not earning her own keep and only had one option – to be a wife. Lucy highlighted that friendship as her heart poured out on stage, particularly when she gave Carole advice about leaving Gerry.
My favourite relationship of Cynthia’s in the show is with Barry Mann, played by Mat Verevis. When they first encounter each other they are instantly attracted to one another. She initially doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure, as they agree to work as writing partners at 1650 Broadway. Soon after they write their first major hit they can’t resist each other. These two were the comic relief of the piece and left us in stitches with the one – liners left and right.
The highlight number for Lucy is ‘Walking in the Rain’ which she shares with Mat. The number conveys after all they have been through they can forgive and love each other. This is because Barry finally wrote a melody for Cynthia’s ‘rain lyrics.’ ‘On Broadway’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ were the most spectacular numbers that they ‘wrote’ and it was wonderful for them to showcase those classic songs in this production.
Mat Verevis, also a Helpmann Award winner for Best Supporting Male in a Musical, played a quirky and hilarious part as Barry Mann. He gave the audience a taste into the creative process of the MannWeil tunes. Mat conveyed his truth when he sang the electrifying number ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.’ Do not sleep on this song everyone. He has so much power in his voice as he sings, with the accompaniment of the electric guitar. The audience went wild like a rock concert as he belted his face off with the last note. I believe this song is forwarding the story as Barry is wanting more than the busy city life and would like to settle down in the suburbs with Cynthia, like Carole and Gerry. Initially Cynthia is hesitant to marry Barry due to issues with her mother. However she finally comes around and realises, he will always be there for her.
‘You’ve got a friend’ is a defining song in the show and stems back to the overall theme of friendship, that is prominent between Carole, Cynthia and Barry. This is the number that the masses know over all others, before they arrive at the theatre. You could hear people humming along and getting emotional as it left them feeling for Carole and her friends, as she was about to move to California from New York. It really pulls on your heart strings, when you feel for a friend or loved one. Esther, Mat and Lucy make this song their own, rounds out their relationship and concludes their arc.
Don Kirshner, American Music Publisher at 1650 Broadway was portrayed by Mike Mcleish. He is also in that final moment of ‘You’ve got a friend’ and by the end grows to care and love Carole, Barry and Cynthia as they have gone through so much joy and heartache together, since that first day he signed her first song. Mike makes a conscious decision to be that ‘father’ figure or mentor to Carole and is very influential throughout her journey to success. He nails the New York attitude of it sells if it’s repetitive and dance music. However he knows that GoffinKing and MannWeil have something special with their romantic, fun-loving hits.
Anne Wood shines as Carole’s mother, Genie Klein. She becomes her character in the greatest way. The Australian musical theatre legend commences the show by smoking a cigarette and dabbling on the piano because it relaxes her, before Carole steals the chair. Anne has the most wonderful Brooklyn accent and appears at the beginning of the show trying to convince Carole to become a teacher, instead of musician as previously mentioned. Due to the fact that none of her own plays she writes get noticed. Anne portrays her mother in such a remarkable way, in particular at the climax of the tale as Carole ends her relationship with Gerry. She reminds her with gusto and heart that Carole wrote a successful song on her own ‘without Gerry’, convincing her she can keep following her dreams without him.
The multi –talented ensemble is the glue that held the piece together. The incredible numbers and minor roles standout in the most beautiful way. You are first introduced to the majority of the ensemble in ‘1650 Broadway’ which is the most colourful mash – up of songs that highlight the singers and songwriters that work at the music ‘factory’, as Carole named it.
Jason Arrow brings a loving and comical side to Neil Sedaka in his first appearance singing the bop ‘Oh Carol’ at the top of the show, as well as portraying the eccentric Los Angeles producer, Lou Adler. Soon after you witness Arrow wow the audience with ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling’ with Andrew Cook as The Righteous Brothers. The crowd cheers as they conclude the famous masterpiece by MannWeil. The audience later comes to know Cook as a versatile actor when he takes on the laid-back ‘Bitter End’ bar musician, Nick.
The Drifters perform three of the big Broadway numbers in the show with each one having their time to shine which I thought was perfect, as most times the ensemble don’t receive the recognition they deserve. In ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’, Marcus Corowa sings the main parts of the song and does it with such feeling and range with a smile on his face. Barry Conrad leads The Drifters in the song based around Gerry’s childhood ‘Up on the Roof’ and does so with pizzazz and simple but effective dance steps. The Drifters have soulful but light – lighted voices when it comes to the iconic New York jam ‘On Broadway’ written by Cynthia and Barry. The choreography by Josh Prince was flawless and very theatrical. This number highlighted specifically the spectacular voices of Joseph Naim and Nana Matapule.
The Shirelles were the other major group who carried the show with their incredible poise and abilities. ‘Will you still love me tomorrow’ was elegantly led by the unbelievable vocalist, Ruva Ngwenya. Chloe Zuel showed off her charisma and uniqueness in the fun ‘train’ dance number, ‘Locomotion’ as Little Eva, Carole and Gerry’s babysitter. It was brilliant the way she changed costumes and got the audience dancing in their seats. The nerve and talent Akina Edmonds demonstrated playing ‘Janelle Woods’ as she sung ‘One Fine Day’ was a momentous highlight, as she was revealed to be having an affair with Gerry. The fourth Shirelle was Rebecca Selley, who also embodied the girl in the ‘Bitter End’ singing MannWeil’s ‘Uptown’ so magnificently, as the two songwriters got engaged.
The ‘beautiful’ musical direction was led by the immeasurably gifted, Daniel Edmonds. Once the overture hits the entire orchestra don’t miss a beat of the everlasting score. A notable mention to all of the dedicated Swings, Understudies and Dance Captain who work so hard behind the scenes learning multiple tracks to go on stage at a minutes notice – Doron Chester, Julia Dray, Michael Hart, Lorinda May Merrypor, Sean Sinclair and Angelina Thomson.
You don’t want to miss this timeless piece of theatre, with a story that keeps you grinning the entire show. It carries the heart of Carole King. You’ll be singing and the earth will be moving till you will want to see it again! Get your last minute tickets to this almost sold – out season and stay beautiful!
Book your seats before ‘It’s too late’ here – https://bit.ly/2tX55hE
Photo Credit –
Joan Marcus and Ben Symons
Video Credit –
Ellen Goddard: The Fame Reporter