When petticoats were fulsome and Rock ‘n’ Roll songs were precisely three minutes long, a startlingly young Carole King was at her mother’s home in Brooklyn writing some of the catchiest songs in chart history.

If the toe-tapping ‘Who put the Bomp’ from Act One is a question, then King (Bronté Barbé) is the answer. From the start of her career aged just 16, she put the bomp into fifties music, writing hit after hit with her lyricist husband Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry). Stars like The Shirelles, The Drifters and Bobby Vee recorded King and Goffin’s early songs, and we’re treated to enthusiastic performances of them by sparky impersonators. The Locomotion, Take Good Care of my Baby and Up on the Roof will be familiar to most people, even if, like me, they didn’t realise King had penned them.

Carole King Musical

The show focuses on King and Goffin’s marriage, and their competitive relationship with fellow musicians and writers Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves) and Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson). The two couples almost seem to tag-team the number one spot throughout the decade and the hits just keep coming – Will you Still Love Me Tomorrow, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, One Fine Day. 

A slick Neil Sedaka (Ben Morris) makes a couple of brief, and funny, appearances singing Oh Carol. The Drifters (Khalid Daley, Simeon Montague, Matthew Elliot-Campbell and Matt Mills) are a highlight too, performing their distinctive doo-wop dance routines, and The Righteous Brothers (Ben Morris and Grant McConvey) do a note-perfect rendition of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling to a great response from the audience. It’s Barbé that takes the best numbers, of course. She has a powerful voice, but it’s hard to avoid direct comparison with King and there were times when I craved the more folky, earthy, country style of the original.

Carole King Musical

By Act Two, having run out of ideas for singers that suit her very personal and autobiographical songs, King turns performer herself and ends up recording the acclaimed Tapestry album and playing at Carnegie Hall. Some of King’s best and most iconic songs play out in these final scenes – It’s Too Late, You’ve Got a Friend, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, while the show’s title track, Beautiful, is a fitting end to this uplifting show of classic hits. See it at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 7 April, 2018.

Review by Wendy Johnson

Related

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical at Bristol Hippodrome Theatre
Performance
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical at Bristol Hippodrome Theatre

Long before she was Carole King, the chart-topping music legend, she was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent.