Celebrating Carole

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Spotlight Theatrical Company)

Spotlight Theatrical Company, Halpin Auditorium

May 14 – June 5

Last month, Carole King was announced amongst the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2021 diverse list of inductees. King, who was previously inducted with co-songwriter Gerry Goffin in 1990, is one of the most prolific female musicians in the history of pop music, whose career and legacy are celebrated in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”, a jukebox musical beloved by all who experience its joy.

For many, the work of this immensely talented American songwriter and singer is epitomised in her iconic Tapestry album so it is appropriate that it is celebration of this multi-Grammy-award-winning landmark studio album that bookends the moving musical, which opens with King in 1971, as a bonafide solo star, about to perform at Carnegie Hall, after having left behind an established, successful song writing career with her husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin. It is a big story and a potentially risky show choice for an amateur theatre company, however, in the case of Spotlight’s Theatre’s production, it is risk that comes with immense reward thanks to the company’s polished approach to all of its aspects and especially the strong performances of its main cast members Gabriella Flowers as King, Todd Jesson as Goffin, Rachel Love as Cynthia Weil and Bryn Jenke as Barry Mann.

The biopic chronologically follows Carole King’s rise in the world of music through her tumultuous marriage with husband and song writing partner, Gerry Goffin, as well her relationship with rival composer and lyricist couple Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The result is a setlist that features celebration of the greatest hits by the acts for which the couples wrote, as well as King’s later original songs such as ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, making for a hugely accessible show.

Flowers gives a solid, fierce and fresh performance as she takes the musical’s protagonist from excitable 16-year-old surprised to have the attention of the dreamiest guy in school, through her time as a hardworking professional to being a mature single mother and accomplished performer. Jesson is an empathetic performer who layers the difficult role of King’s unfaithful and troubled husband with sincerity and sensitivity, which amplifies the complication of the situation in which King finds herself.

Love makes Weil sassy and confident without tipping her into obnoxious territory and Jenke is very entertaining as hyperbolical hypochondriac Barry Mann, complete with a well-timed quip for every occasion. And all of them handle the required accents with ease. The ensemble cast, too, is excellent with Rob Kebba anchoring things throughout as ‘the man with the Golden Ear’, legendary American music publisher, music consultant, rock music producer, talent manager and songwriter Donnie Kirshner.

With the two song writing teams turning out an amazing parade of songs, the audience is treated to a musically strong act one, with hilghlights including ‘On Broadway’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ which soon have everyone smiling widely and tapping happily along. Flowers’ voice is strong throughout, whether sweet, soulful or gutsied-up. Her versatility is seen as she yearns us into intermission with ‘One Fine Day’ upon Carole’s discovery of her husband’s infidelity, before registering the intense discovery of her own voice in Act Two’s commanding ‘It’s Too Late’ description of a relationship’s end.

When Jenke’s robust vocals are shared in Act Two’s changing musical sounds with the iconic ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’, (which accompanying distinctive bass) we are left lamenting that there are not more musical numbers for him to share. The 1965 rock hit for the Animals, written by Mann and Weil comes late in the charted competition between the two couples to not only see their hits become number ones but stay there the longest. Prior to it, we are treated to songs from artists such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Monkees and more.

Under Matt Pearson’s musical direction, the harmonies in the earlier-era songs, are especially satisfying, with The Drifters’ ‘Up on the Roof’ representing a high point thanks to Matthew McKenzie’s range. Similarly, Liam Lockwood switches effortlessly into falsetto, working wonderfully with Mitch Walsh’s bass tone to soar the Righteous Brothers’ ‘ultimate pop record’ number to spine-tingling heights. And the live orchestration of the boppy band includes some entertaining arrangements, such a medley of familiar sixties songs ‘1650 Broadway Medley’ early in Act One as we are first taken into Kirshner’s office at for the first time.

Clever staging doesn’t compromise anything from professional productions of the 2013 musical, backdropping for example, the ski lodge of a Vermont getaway with a framed-off section of the recording building. And in complement to Kim Reynolds’ tight direction, swift set transitions assist in maintaining momentum. Era-evocative costumes by Trish Nissan, Colleen Reynolds and Kim Reynolds take the audience to an Act Two that is very firmly placed in the 1960s and give us a standout costuming reveal in Little Eva’s (Sammy Price) peppy performance of ‘Locomotion’.

With all of these on-point elements combined, Spotlight Theatre’s “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is certainly deserving of its end of show standing ovation. Indeed, it is easy to understand why the season sold out before even opening. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is that kind of musical though… a joyous crowd favourite of an experience whose additional matinee show feels akin to a cosy musical hug on a cool almost-winter afternoon.

Photos c/o – Vargo Studios

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