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Posts Tagged ‘Carole King’

Well, we’ve already had biographical juke-box musicals about The Four Seasons, Carole King and The Kinks (all good, and all still running in the West End), so here is Wales’ contribution. The story of the early years of the septuagenarian from The Valleys with a 50+ year career and a voice that still sounds great at 75. He comes from a town over the hill in the next valley to me and I saw him perform in a local community centre in my early teens, so how could I resist this?

Actually, it’s not a juke-box musical as it only includes a few of his hits, as the closing number and the mini-concert encore. Though there is a fair bit of music, it feels more like a play with music than a musical, as it tells the story from his mid-teens, fatherhood and marriage at sixteen, through to his appearance on Top of the Pops when It’s Not Unusual (originally written for Sandie Shaw, it seems!) makes No.1.

We move from home at wife Linda’s mums in Trefforest to a variety of venues in the valleys, signing to Gordon Mills (a not so big shot from Tonypandy, it seems) and on to London for a six month struggle that he almost gave up on. Along the way he picks up a band called The Senators who become The Squires before Mills drops them for a different, brassier sound for the first big hit. 

The music is played live by the four actors playing The Senators / Squires – Daniel Lloyd, Tom Connor, John McLarnon and Kieran Bailey – who make a great sound. During the final scene and encore, Phylyip Harries who has been our excellent narrator Jack Lister adds sax, Elin Phillips (lovely as Tom’s wife) adds piano and Nicola Bryan (Tom’s mother) proves a dab hand at the trumpet!  I thought Kit Orton was outstanding as Tom, terrific voice and great at all those trademark moves. Just eleven actor-musicians tell the story and provide the music!

Mike James’ writing is lucid, economical and good humoured storytelling and Geinor Styles stages it very effectively on a simple set, where projections are used to great effect to take you from the Welsh valley locations to London locations. The show exceeded my expectations and proved to be a charming, and for me, nostalgic story.

It’s on a different scale (and budget, no doubt) to those other bio-musicals, but Theatr Na Nog are to be congratulated on producing something that oozes quality in every department and honours a Welsh legend great flair.

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Very late to the party with this one, but it was a lovely party. All the best ‘jukebox’ musicals are biographical stories of the songwriters / performers whose songs populate them – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon and now Beautiful, the Carole King Musical. I was surprised when I realised this ended as she found fame as a singer-songwriter with the iconic album Tapestry, but in the end it made perfect sense. I also wasn’t expecting fellow songwriters Mann & Weill to feature so much, or indeed other songs from the age of the contract songwriters.

It is an extraordinary real life story. She wrote her first commercial song – It Might As Well Rain Until September – aged 16 and was immediately put under contract by Donnie Kirshner to write songs for acts like The Drifters and The Shirelles, pairing with school friend and wannabe playwright Gerry Goffin as lyricist. They also became an item, she became pregnant by Goffin and they married. They became good friends with fellow contract songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill but were also professional rivals. Goffin’s infidelity eventually destroyed both their marriage and their songwriting partnership, just as Mann and Weill’s long courtship finally resulted in their marriage. King found herself writing songs alone, with no-one in mind to sing them, soon realising they were her personal story and meant for her and there began her second career and the conclusion of the show.

It begins and ends on the Carnegie Hall stage at the concert which signposts this second extraordinary stage of her life. In between we follow her life chronologically. As songs are written (by both partnerships) they morph into performances by the artists for whom they are composed, as the show moves seamlessly from scenes at home into the office and the studio. Early on there’s a lovely Neil Sedaka running joke (he dated her at school and wrote Oh Carol about her. She was also at school with Paul Simon!) and lots of other nice touches, most classic New York Jewish humour. I very much liked Douglas McGrath’s book and of course the songs are wonderful.

Katie Brayben is sensational as Carole, a fine actress with a glorious voice and spot on Brooklyn accent who ages and matures before your very eyes. Her three co-stars, Lorna Want as feisty independent Cynthia, Alan Morrissey as the troubled Gerry and Ian McIntosh as hypochondriac Barry, are all excellent in both acting and vocal departments and Gary Trainor is very good in the non-singing but pivotal role of Donnie Kirshner, and there’s a nice cameo from Glynis Barber as Carole’s mom. They are supported by a fine ensemble of twelve paying multiple roles, eight dancers and a great sounding ten-piece band under MD Matt Smith (presumably not the Dr Who one).

This is a lovely heart-warming, feel-good show which is also a true story with an exceptional soundtrack that virtually defines the period from the late 50’s through the 60’s to the early 70’s. I’m so glad I caught up with it.

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