Directed by Marc Bruni
Words and Music by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Michael Cassell In association with Paul Blake & Sony/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner
Sydney Lyric Theatre
Reviewed by Len Power 21 September 2017
Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with over 25 million copies sold worldwide. ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ opened on Broadway in 2014 and is still running there. The Australian production, at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney, has the same director, choreographer and scenic, sound, costume and lighting designers.
The show tells the story of the early life and career of Carole King from 1958. According to the script, only men wrote popular songs in that era, so it was quite a break-through for her to have songs performed and published. The first act surprises with the number of songs credited to her that we’ve all known for years. The second act covers more of her personal life and marriage problems but has an upbeat ending with the triumph of ‘Tapestry’ and her 1971 Carnegie Hall concert.
The show has strong performances by the entire cast and a very appealing central performance by Esther Hannaford. She sings and plays the role delightfully and puts her own stamp on the songs.
There’s a basic problem at the heart of this show, though. Carole King, as presented in the show, is a pleasant, occasionally funny but not very exciting personality. Her marital problems are nothing unusual and her husband, Gerry Goffin, played by Josh Piterman, is a rather unsympathetic character. Song-writers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, friends of Carole King, are much more interesting and fun – she is sophisticated and sassy and he’s a hypochondriac. So much time in the show is given over to these two colourful characters and their music that it almost unbalances the show. Amy Lehpamer is wonderful as Cynthia Weil and Mat Verevis is terrific as Barry Mann.
Maybe because of this, the show isn’t as involving emotionally as it should be. Still, it looks and sounds good and is a slick, spectacular and expensive-looking production that’s quite enjoyable. If you’re a fan of that era of music, you’ll have an especially good time.
I saw the show at a preview performance two nights before it officially opened. ‘Beautiful’ is currently playing at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.