Theater: Music, insight and humor: just beautiful



The claim that Beautiful, the Carole King story, is a jukebox musical has been made even more times than Boris Johnson has compared himself to Roman statesman Cincinnatus.

No comment should be given the time of day. Beautiful isn’t just a collection of King hits, it manages to strike that most delicate balance of music, biographical insight and humor.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical chronicles the time, in the early 1960s, when chart hits rolled out of booths in places like the Brill Building in New York, the factory space where young hopefuls such as Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond were manufacturing day and night in the hope of reaching a high end.

We learn of young Carole Klein, a girl from Brooklyn who was obsessed with piano music from the age of four and grew up dreaming of becoming a songwriter.

We learn about her relationship with Gerry Goffin, her college boyfriend, and how King (she changed her name) became pregnant at 17 and soon married. Now the couple had to take ordinary jobs to pay the rent and feed a child.

Yes, this play’s potential drama is sometimes pushed aside for comedic effect, and the production often adopts a sitcom-like style of delivery, but that’s not to the detriment of the story.

We gain enough understanding of Gerry Goffin’s mental health struggles and relationship with music mogul Don Kirshner, and certainly the show doesn’t rely on a run of Carole King’s hits (118 of which made the US Top 100 ), such as the classics Natural Woman and Up on The Roof.

Beautiful also features the works of the other major songwriting partnership operating alongside in the hits factor, King and Goffin’s best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, who created artists like You’ve Lost That. Lovin’ feelin’.

Admittedly, Beautiful doesn’t expand too much on King’s career beyond the success of his 1971 Tapestry album, but that doesn’t hurt: it’s about the making of woman.

And there’s certainly enough space to consider the life of a beleaguered young songwriter, wife and mother.

This musical also represents a great opportunity to wallow in nostalgia, for simpler times. It traces the evolution of the pop music movement from yakety-yak and splish-splash songs to whimsical songs such as The Locomotion, the deepest Pleasant Valley Sunday and the sublime You’ve Got a Friend.

It’s a show that will leave you in awe of the talents of an incredible woman, very clever directing and directing, and Douglas McGrath’s screenplay delivers just the right amount of gags.

It is not a musical jukebox.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The King’s Theatre, Glasgow, September 13-17

MUSICAL? You dream of a very good one, with the songs of your idols – and two arrive in Glasgow in the same week. Half a mile from Carole King comes Bob Dylan as Girl from the North Country, a musical by Irish playwright Conor McPherson. The play, which combines McPherson’s “sublime storytelling” and Bob Dylan’s back catalog, has had seven Emmy nominations.

Dylan himself initiated the writing of the play, having approached Dublin playwright McPherson, the man behind The Weir and This Lime Tree Bower, after seeing his work on stage. Dylan says being associated with McPherson is “one of the highlights of my professional life. My songs couldn’t be in better hands.”

The New York Times certainly loved the result, saying “McPherson pulled off a significant theatrical feat, an immersive story complete with the careful selection of 19 tracks from over half a century of Dylan songs.”

What about the story? Set in 1934, when America is in the throes of the Great Depression, the story is told by Dr. Walker, physician to the Laine family who is on the verge of collapse. Not only is the bank threatening to foreclose on their dilapidated guesthouse, but Elizabeth Laine suffers from dementia and her daughter is pregnant by an unknown father. To complicate matters, the son is an alcoholic dreamer who wants to become a writer, the boarders experience their own chaos, and the father has an affair with one of the guests.

Yes, you can see this is a screaming storyline to be attached to some of Dylan’s most poignant and sought after songs such as Make You Feel My Love and Like a Rolling Stone. For those, like me, who thought The Weir was more boring than a night spent doing the annual accounts, don’t be put off. Emmy voters and critics around the world can’t all be wrong.

Girl From the North Country, Theater Royal, September 13-17

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