Music Theatre

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical review [Melbourne]

A musical to be cherished, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical arrives in pristine form, packed with lively singing talents who have honed their roles to theatrical perfection.


Leading lady Esther Hannaford triumphs on her hometown stage, establishing a connection of mutual love with the audience that transcends the bounds of regular adulation. Gradually becoming the Carole King we know from the 1970s, Hannaford is alternately plucky, demure, passionate, driven, vulnerable and empowered.

Nailing laughs on lines that are not even gags, Hannaford’s comic timing and delivery are impeccable. Her vocals progress from breathy and youthful to a mature soulful belt. These gifts aside, love remains the intangible ingredient that elevates her work to unforgettable status.

On the Melbourne entertainment landscape, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a seamless follow up to summer hit Dream Lover: The Bobby Darin Musical. The Broadway pedigree gives Beautiful something of an advantage. Broadway books are generally finessed to perfection, and Douglas McGrath’s deft, pacy storytelling is no exception.

The two shows shares an abstract, multipurpose scenic design, with Derek McLane having the scope to give Beautiful a glossier, more technical setting, which is enhanced by the deliciously rich colours of Peter Kaczorowski’s integrated lighting design.

The production looks superb in Her Majesty’s Theatre, a large venue with good sightlines to support the intimacy of the very human tale.

The latest jukebox musical to tell the story of its songwriters. Beautiful boasts an extraordinary catalogue of hit tunes from which to draw. Carole King & Gerry Goffin and Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann are responsible for a healthy proportion of the greatest pop songs in history. Every time a character or group begins a song, it is another one the audience knows and loves. Eventually, King went on to record her own material, and the show sharpens its focus on its star for the Tapestry period.

Music director Daniel Edmonds leads twelve terrific musicians in creating a range of pop styles, all coloured with a touch of Broadway.

Leading man Josh Piterman delivers a finely nuanced performance as King’s husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin. Piterman’s initial accomplishment is in showing that a handsome young man can suffer self-doubt and anxiety. Piterman goes on to give an exacting portrayal of Goffin’s pain and confusion over the progression of his mental illness. To say that, at times, this is hard to watch is a compliment to the raw honesty of Piterman’s performance and the powerful impact he creates.

Lucy Maunder joins the cast as glamorous lyricist Cynthia Weil. Maunder brings maturity and warmth to the role, and has the magnetism to hold audience attention when the character of King is off stage. While not given the material to display the full beauty of her singing voice, Maunder nonetheless shines in the snippets in which Cynthia sings. In a show that celebrates the success of women, Maunder’s well-balanced blend of femininity and confident assertion in the role strike the ideal note.

Relative newcomer Mat Verevis is in full bloom as Barry Mann, holding up strongly next to his more experienced stage counterparts. Verevis crafts a likable, subtly flawed character, and sings with unwavering beauty. His rendition of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” is a deserving highlight.

Master of the dry zinger, Anne Wood has perfected the brittle persona of Genie Klein, devoted, if long-suffering, mother of Carole King.

Special mention goes to Ruva Ngwenya for her wonderful lead vocals when The Shirelles perform the hit of a generation, Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Rebecca Selley also stands out for the quality of her belt, heard to great effect in “Uptown.”

Beautiful is expertly produced entertainment. Whether audiences are familiar with the original versions of these songs or later incarnations in their multiple covers, Beautiful is bound to entrance music lovers across all ages.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne

Photos: #1, #4, #5, #6 Ben Symons; #2, #3, #7 Joan Marcus

9 replies »

  1. Great review 🙂 I saw it last Saturday night & couldn’t agree more with what you have said. It truly a gorgeous and uplifting story etc
    I have also written a review/blog on this hehe feel free to check it out – I’d greatly appreciate it

  2. Absolutely loved this show …..from the front row Esther Hannaford’s portayal was a revelation…..her pacing and growth of the character were very engaging and a masterclass for all thespians.
    Very disappointed that they have pulled the plug on the Adelaide season…..could have easily seen it again ….and again !
    Have you heard why Simon ?
    …..and have you been to see Beyond the Barricade yet ?..I’d be very interested in your thoughts etc.

    • Thanks for these comments, Edward. You have reminded me that I must be sure to see Esther and co in Beautiful again before it finishes in Melbourne. I am equally disappointed that the show will not tour to Adelaide. It seems that ticket sales were below expectation in Melbourne so I can only imagine that this is the reason. I wonder if the reason for somewhat lower ticket sales in Melbourne was because the target audience had all just spent their money seeing Dream Lover.
      Unfortunately, I did not get to see Beyond the Barricade. How about you?
      Looking forward to Patti LuPone “Don’t Monkey with Broadway” this Saturday night!

  3. Be prepared to be bowled over by Patti Lupone. The quiet moments have extraordinary strength. One song I cannot move on from is Sleepy Man from The Robber Bridegroom. I had not heard it before and her rendition is sublime.An Adelaide youth choir joined her on stage for a few songs, some unaccompanied,….beautiful moments. I only hope you are close to the stage for intimacy as she works really well close up.
    With Beyond the Barricade I thought I had died and gone to musical theatre heaven.I saw it in Port Pirie’s excellent theatre complex as they did not perform in a mainstream Adelaide venue and their Noarlunga show clashed with Patti Lupone.
    Suffice to say they ticked off all my Desert Island disc list with dynamic renditions of Anthem, Stars, Gethsemene,Music of the Night, I Still Believe…..and that’s only a small sample of their repertoire.Their group member Katie Leeming, who had to return to UK from Perth, has been replaced by Lucy Maunder of Matilda fame. Her version of The Winner Takes it All was a knockout !
    May I say too that I always enjoy the fabulous images that accompany your reviews. They often spend some time as my pc wallpaper.

    • Wow, you have me very excited about Patti now. Hope we have a choir in accompaniment in Melbourne as well!
      Shane that I missed Beyond the Barricade. Sounds like they did all my favourite songs as well. I think you are referring to their guest artist Elise McCann from Matilda. She is an extraordinary singer!!
      Glad to hear you enjoy the production photos. I aways make sure to include a healthy number of these!

  4. Thanks Simon….my sincere apologies to Elise….what was I thinking !…..especially when she was so good in Barricade.
    At least I had her in good theatrical

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