Review: Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, March 10

Bront� as Carole King. Photos by Craig Sugden

Will you still love this musical tomorrow?

The morning after press night and I’m certainly still humming along to its infectious soundtrack.

I hold my hands up, I wasn’t massively au fait with Carole King’s career prior to seeing Beautiful. Sure, I’d heard of landmark album Tapestry and knew she’d penned Will You Love Me Tomorrow, made famous by The Shirelles. But, other than that, my knowledge was limited.

My mother, however, knew all about her incredible career. No surprise, therefore, that the audience last night was mostly made up of people who remember the hits from their release in their ‘60s and ‘70s. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable for audiences who weren’t around during the songs’ inception: you just have to be a fan of music and the craft of song-writing.

What this musical does is to celebrate (and highlight for the uninitiated) just how talented a writer and composer Carole King is.

Songs she’s associated with such as The Locomotion, One Fine Day, Up On the Roof, It’s Too Late and You’ve Got a Friend are deftly woven together by the story of Carole’s life, from her formative teenage years to her late ‘20s and the release of Tapestry.

Her’s is not a dramatic story of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks or drugs and violence, but it is one countless women can relate to. It’s an ordinary story of making a voice for yourself, juggling motherhood with a career and dealing with the heartbreak of your husband’s infidelities.

Stepping behind the piano in the lead role is Bronté Barbé whose understated, emotional portrayal of King is the lynch pin of the show and you can’t help but give her a whoop and holler when she finally kicks writing partner and adulterous husband Gerry (played by Kane Oliver Parry) to the kerb.

The American accents may be hammy, but the relationships feel more real and the connection between Carole, Gerry and friends and sometime writing partners Cynthia Weil (played by the feisty Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (played with good comic timing by Matthew Gonsalves) are well fleshed out for a jukebox musical.

The accents are more seamless in the singing numbers and Bronté is brilliant at breathing theatrical life into one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.

She may not be playing the piano - that’s done by a talented pianist in the pit - but everything else about the performance is pitch perfect.

A talented ensemble cast perform some of the hits King and her writing partners penned for other artists, including Some Kind of Wonderful and On Broadway, made famous by The Drifters and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling as performed by the Righteous Brothers.

It may have been vocal powerhouse Aretha Franklin who made (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman famous, but Bronté’s performance of this number in the context of Carole’s marriage problems made it seem all the more beautiful.

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