Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep

“Let’s get together and feel all right”

There’s much to enjoy in One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, not least the joyous celebration of some of the most enduringly famous music in the world. And writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah does a decent job at balancing the populist demands of a jukebox musical with something more dramatically satisfying. The result has been a sell-out success for the Birmingham Rep and I only just managed to squeak this into the schedule before it closes at the weekend,

Using 20 or so of Marley’s songs, Kwei-Armah takes us through an eventful few years in the singer’s life as the success of his artistry launches him from an accomplished reggae musician to international icon, pushing his concerns from simply getting records out to matters of national diplomacy as he finds himself intertwined in Jamaican politics. He also has internal conflicts with his band and a turbulent personal life to deal with, as well as converting to Rastafarianism. Continue reading “Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep”

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”