‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ was grooving.
Gold Coast’s Spotlight Theatrical Company are making the ‘earth move under our feet’ with the joyous, heartbreaking and moving story of songwriting legend, Carole King.
‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is a jukebox biopic following Carole King’s rise in the world of music through her relationship with husband and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin, as well her friendship with rival composer and lyricist duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. It features all of her greatest hits and performances by the acts that made them famous.
Spotlight Theatrical’s The Halpin Auditorium was transformed into a buzzing vintage recording studio that would span more than a decade of King’s life. Director and choreographer, Kim Reynolds, completely utilised the space by having the ensemble of actors move through the balcony above and office spaces upstage which truly evoked a bustling workplace; befitting King’s work ethic. Direction was also well-considered and versatile with certain parts of the action taking place in front of the curtain as the set was changed behind. The black backdrop, in conjunction with spotlights, created a suave atmosphere, which was particularly suited for The Righteous Brothers performance of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. Spotlights were also an effective way of separating the action. An example of this was Liam Lockwood as Neil Sedaka enthusiastically performing on stage right as King sat stage left watching him on television.
Set transitions were seamless as the ensemble flowed across the stage wheeling on various props and set pieces. The key pieces throughout the show were the pianos, which almost became characters unto themselves as they were wheeled here, there and everywhere throughout the performance. Other notable props by Ann and Russell Williams were old school recording cameras, backdrops for recording artists and a simple recording booth that further immersed the audience in the 70s era.
The role of Carole King is no mean feat and Gabriella Flowers carried the show with an abundance of earnest sincerity as she navigated many challenges in order to prevail for her family. The musical tells Carole’s story from the age of 16 to late 20s and Flowers retained her youthful idealism throughout the show. Later, she enriched the production further with maturity as the storyline progressed. Flowers was the epitome of a leading lady with powerhouse vocals to match. She was a joy to watch.
The role of King’s husband, Gerry Goffin, was portrayed by Todd Jesson, who successfully captured Goffin’s degeneration from a smooth and starry-eyed teen to an anxious and trapped adult who was overwhelmed with responsibilities and craved something grander in life. It can be very easy to embody an antagonistic character as purely a bad guy, but Jesson fleshed out Goffin’s anxiety with a self-serving conscience. The scene where Goffin breaks down in front of King was wonderfully communicated by both actors who implicitly embraced each role’s yearnings.
Rachel Love as Cynthia Weil was witty and sharp. She exuded an air of sophistication but had a lot of warmth and very believable chemistry with Bryn Jenke as Barry Mann. Jenke was endearing in his portrayal of a wannabe playboy but an anxiously motivated hypochondriac. Their two smooth voices blended beautifully, and their surefooted, sparring dynamic provided a light relief to King and Goffin’s more outwardly intense relationship.
Rob Kebba as record maker and mentor of King, Donnie Kirshner was a solid anchor throughout the show. His crisp and no-nonsense presence was beautifully softened when he chose to collaborate in ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ with King, Weil and Mann, creating a poignant and memorable moment. As King’s mother Genie Klein, Natalie Stephenson was the classic matriarch and delivered her comic one-liners with dry humour. Hannah Crowther was suitably naïve and adorable as 16-year-old King’s friend, Betty. Louise Thorpe as Lucille perfectly complimented Donnie Kirschner’s hectic recording business.
Despite the musical centering on King, it is also an ensemble heavy show from seamless set transitions to recreating the various household name performers that made King’s music famous. The timeliness of each of these acts subtly signposted the plot’s chronological progression and the rise of her work. Under the musical direction of Matt Pearson, the harmonies were electric. Choreography by Reynolds was energised and reflected the era. This combination allowed ensemble members to shine, which made the show feel like a true artistic collaboration.
Additional notable mentions include: Matthew McKenzie’s silky vocals as the first frontman of the Drifters; Holly Andrew’s star power as the Shirelle’s Shirley; Mitch Walsh’s gorgeous bass tone as one of the Righteous Brothers as well as his acting as hippy wannabe romantic alternative Nick; Ezekiel Whitecross’ energy in ensemble numbers; and Liam Lockwood, who’s infectious enthusiasm and committed acting choices lifted every scene he was in. Lockwood was particularly endearing in his lovesick puppy portrayal of Neil Sedaka and comic groover in the recording booth.
Costumes by Colleen Reynolds, Kim Reynolds and Trish Nissan oozed the era and epitomised glamour, especially for the girl groups. Combined with the hairstyling for Carole King (wigs by Reynolds and Nissan), it provided a clear indication of the time shifts and King’s progression. A standout moment of costuming was a fast-paced, Cinderella-style dress transformation as Sammy Price twirled in centre stage to perform the ‘Locomotion’. Price shone in this number as did the high energy ensemble for a very memorable performance.
Whilst the upbeat numbers energised the audience, the change of pace in the slower numbers made for some beautiful moments, especially when Flowers performed ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ sitting at her piano, illuminated by a single spotlight. Her sweet vocals soared with passion and were phrased beautifully. The poignant visuals also alluded to the success she would later achieve as a solo performer sat at her piano in Carnegie Hall. The iconic image of King at the piano was enacted just like the Broadway production, bookending the show with heart.
Spotlight Theatrical Company has well and truly captured the essence of the 70s for a nostalgic and moving production of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’. An evening at this theatre is guaranteed to be ‘one fine day’ that you will most certainly ‘still be loving tomorrow’.
‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ performs at the Halpin Auditorium, Benowa, until Saturday, 5 June 2021. For more information for this and future productions, keep up to date at Spotlight Theatrical Company’s website.