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Posts Tagged ‘Douglas McGrath’

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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