Re-review: Beautiful – The Carole King Story, Aldwych

“Remember when you used to play Mozart?”

I’ve been lucky enough to see Cassidy Janson in a number of productions over the years and I’ve been a fan from the start, from stepping into Julie Atherton’s not-inconsiderable shoes in Avenue Q onwards, so I was mightily pleased when she was announced as the replacement for Katie Brayben in the lead role in Beautiful – The Carole King Story. I really enjoyed the show when it opened last year and thought Janson would be a good fit but in finally getting to see her, I couldn’t have imagined how perfect a marriage of performer and material this would be.

As Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters of the last century, she thoroughly imbues the character with an engaging sense of life and vivid musicality that just bursts from the stage. Through a decade of huge change as this ebullient Manhattan teenager becomes a wife and mother as well as writing some of the biggest pop hits around, Janson keeps us thoroughly engaged with Douglas McGrath’s sometimes-a-bit-too-functional book whether acting, singing or acting through song – if she weren’t already a star, I’d say it’s a star-making performance.  Continue reading “Re-review: Beautiful – The Carole King Story, Aldwych”

Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre

“Everything seems to be
Some kind of wonderful”

Where Broadway leads, the West End will surely follow and so it is little surprise that Tony-winning Beautiful – The Carole King Musical found its way over here to the Aldwych Theatre. And I’m pleased to report that the transatlantic passage has gone most smoothly indeed to deliver an absolute treat of a show. When three of its four leading personnel are still very much alive and kicking, it is perhaps no surprise that Douglas McGrath’s book treads a rather respectable path through the first ten years of King’s career. But then she would be the first to say, with typical self-deprecating charm, that her life is hardly the most exciting, her dreams never the loftiest – it just so happens that beneath this veneer of ordinariness lay an absolute treasure trove of extraordinary music. 

And as musical gem follows musical gem – both from the collaborations of King and sometime partner Gerry Goffin, and also from their friends and writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – this feels utterly the point. Life isn’t always chock-a-block with drama, motivations don’t always have to spring from some momentous event, the cult of the tortured artistic soul is far from the be all and end all (Billington seems to suggest being “a shy, well-adjusted woman struggling to reconcile a career with a failing marriage” is something of a crime!) and I’d say that Beautiful is no weaker a biopic for not having such narrative peaks and troughs, reinventing personal history in the name of drama.  Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: The Beautiful Game, Union

“I’m an atheist and an internationalist – I don’t believe in God or country”

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s The Beautiful Game managed a run of just under a year at the turn of the millennium. It was then rewritten and retitled The Boys in the Photograph for a 2009 North American premiere in Canada, and it is that version which now makes its London fringe debut at the Union Theatre, but under the original title of The Beautiful Game. Got it? The endless tinkering of musicals is nothing new – ‘Our Kind of Love’, the best known song in the original was filleted out and repurposed as the title song for Love Never Dies – but the clumsiness with which the ending has been redone here is ridiculously clunky.

Which is a shame, as there is much good work here in Lotte Wakeham’s production. David Shields’ simple design makes clever use of benches and Tim Jackson’s choreography finds a remarkably effective middle ground between soccer and soft shuffle in bringing the football sequences to vibrant life on the limited traverse stage. An appealingly fresh-faced cast, spearheaded by an excellent Niamh Perry, deliver performances of spirited energy and graceful enthusiasm. And musically, MD Benjamin Holder introduces an interesting range of textures to enhance the score and alleviate some of its repetitive longueurs. Continue reading “Review: The Beautiful Game, Union”

Review: Old Goat Song, Lion and Unicorn

There’s a clever bit of word-play with the title of new musical Old Goat Song which will be readily apparent for those with a knowledge of some Ancient Greek, though the rest of us may need a helping hand. The word tragedy roughly translates as ‘goat song’ and the central character of this show, a widower in his 70s, refers to himself as the ‘old goat’, though the overall tone of the musical is less tragic than wistfully nostalgic. 

Bill Fast’s life since his wife died has not been the happiest and he is now seriously unwell. Living with his abrasive sister Cora who is enforcing a low-cholesterol diet, he seeks refuge in a local diner and soon becomes besotted with Cara, a 17 year old waitress there. As he edges ever closer to death, his relationship with her becomes increasingly entangled as the gifts he gives her become ever more grand and the feelings that start to move to an uncomfortable place. Continue reading “Review: Old Goat Song, Lion and Unicorn”