After beginning her career as a composer of pop songs for other people to sing, Carole King's 1971 solo album release Tapestry made her into a star in her own right — and propelled her to a Carnegie Hall concert in June of the same year, which is where Beautiful, a biographical musical of her life, begins.
It then spools backwards to her as a young teenager, writing songs in her bedroom and making a trip from Brooklyn to 1650 Broadway (not the Brill Building, but another home of publishers and agents) to try to sell them. There she is introduced to Gerry Goffen, who would become her writing and troubled life partner; and encounter fellow writing couple Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who would also marry and become their best friends. (It also allows this show to include a fair few of their songs, too, including Up on The Roof and On Broadway).
Like Jersey Boys, the musical uses the songs to illustrate and punctuate the story of their own creators' lives. It delivers some appropriate transitions, but also some clunky ones; Douglas McGrath's book for Marc Bruni's efficient production may be a little by-numbers, but then what numbers King wrote! I'd quite happily listen to them all night. And that's more or less what we do in between the exposition. As delivered with a rare mixture of ferocity and vivacity, passion and charm by Katie Brayben, the show's proof is definitely in its pudding of those songs and this performance of them.
It is beautifully served, too, by a music department led by musical supervisor Jason Howland and musical director Matt Smith.
I recently looked up Carole King's twitter account, and she only has 45,000 followers. Yet Justin Bieber, for instance, has 60 million! I just hope there's a bigger audience than those 45,000 people for this show. King's talent deserves 60 million. But please, let's not have a Justin Bieber jukebox show anytime soon!
"A workmanlike effort which has done great business on Broadway, and is likely to do a roaring trade in London too where the theatrical market for sounds-of-the-Sixties nostalgia has never been so buoyant."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"The actress [Katie Brayben as Carole King] gives a wonderfully endearing performance that seems to soar beyond mere impersonation as it communicates King's warmth, modesty, self-deprecating humour, and touching integrity and projects the straight-from-the-heart candour of that nasal, husky, plaintively yearning singing voice."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"While the show is pleasant enough, it struck me as the theatrical equivalent of one of those bland Hollywood biopics in which a local boy or girl makes it to the top of the showbiz ladder. The show lacks the drama that some of us still hunger for in a musical."
Micheal Billington for The Guardian
"Its Americanised, airbrushy niceness aside, this show is sweet and happy as pie. It milks the tear ducts, gives you a long list of searing songs and will send many a couple home arm-in-arm to the very suburbs Carole King adored."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"Those who like their entertainment edgy may regard Beautiful as polite to the point of being tame. But this gently enjoyable show deserves to find an audience — and will surely enchant Baby Boomers nostalgic for the sounds of the Sixties."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard