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