Perfect pitch: Bronte Barbe was a reality show finalist
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (rating 4/5)
Legend is an overused word. However, in the history of popular music it is arguable that no woman has reached the heights of songwriter and hit maker Carole King who finally stepped out from the shadows.
Now the smash hit Broadway and West end musical finds its voice in Edinburgh where a first night crowd went wild for the ensemble talent on show in a colourful journey through the 50s and 60s culminating in King’s solo debut in 1971.
Carole King, nee Klein, was a Brooklyn-born child whose matriarch of a mother encouraged her efforts at classical piano and tried to steer her into teaching.
But amazingly the teenage wordsmith had other ideas and talked herself into a writing stint in New York’s famed Brill building where she forged a professional and personal writing partnership with Gerry Goffin her future husband and a lyricist looking for a muse.
Together and apart, the pair penned more that 100 hits for artists as diverse as The Shirelles, The Drifters, and Little Eva – their nanny after their marriage. There’s an in-joke that after Little Eva hit the big time with the Locomotion they lost their babysitter.
Bronte Barbe a finalist in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BBC reality show Over the Rainbow is perfect in the role.
King never said she could sing, and it was her conviction to the songs which made her an icon. She famously handed her songs to Aretha Franklin and James Taylor among an almost endless list.
But Barbe can sing and her interpretations are powerful and poignant in turn. She has a vocal range which surpasses King’s.
In this acclaimed production side players do a great job transitioning from fifties be-pop to sixties hippydom and the dazzling choreography by Josh Prince and vivid costume designs by Alejo Vietti both hit the mark.
Kane Oliver Parry with a string of west end hits under his belt including Oklahoma! and We Will Rock You captures Goffin with all his flaws.
Their partnership was prolific and the pair penned many hits for girl groups and King had a particular ear for the struggles of women and women of colour.
When Carole King broke out of this circuit she finally found her own voice with Tapestry, an undisputed feminist pean which broke the mould of singer-songwriters in an era when male singer songwriters were predominant.
King famously penned hit songs for other people including You’ve Got A Friend and Up On the Roof.
This show vividly depicts the struggles of jobbing songwriters who jostle for chart positions.
Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, a songwriting team in competition with Goffin and King, get a lot of stage time. Gonsalves, a singer and vocal arranger, is a scene stealer with great comedic timing and some of the best lines.
But it is King’s story which shines through in a dazzling treat for the eyes and the ears.
She was only 18 when she wrote Will You Love Me Tomorrow for the Shirelles. And when Bronte interprets You’ve Got A Friend which she famously handed to her friend James Taylor, there is a hush across the theatre.
It’s her own soul-searching material that makes her an icon and this show indeed is beautiful. It is a musical that’s good for the soul.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 2 December