Released in 1971, Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ has sold over 25 million copies, making it one of the best selling albums of all time and earning the singer-songwriter a handful of Grammy awards when she was just 30 years old.
Beautiful traces the life of King up to the release of this treasured album, from her precocious entry onto the music scene, tracking her relationship with writing partner and first husband, Gerry Goffin, and the couple’s long friendship with rival songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.
Spewing out endless tunes to be recorded by artists such as The Shirelles, The Drifters, Bobby Vee and The Chiffons in music impresario Donnie Kirshner’s relentless hit factory, the Goffin/King combo after a song title is as familiar a sight as the Lennon/McCartney one. From the late 50s, teenagers had become big business, a ripe market for selling music to, the likes of Kirshner harnessing their spending power through catchy tunes and groovy dances, and King’s melodies and Goffin’s lyrics were just the ticket to supply his performers with hits throughout the 1960s.
The Carole King in my mind, the woman capable of writing such a classic as ‘Tapestry’ (undoubtedly one of my all-time favourite albums – it was a staple in our household growing up) is feisty so I’m slightly disappointed to realise that she was far meeker in real-life. Bronté Barbé plays the legend with a thick New York accent, even when singing. She portrays a likeable but serious person and she plays the part well – her rendition of ‘(You Make me Feel Like) a Natural Woman’ is one of my highlights of this musical.
This is a tale of love, heartbreak and friendship, with strong performances from the whole cast. But ultimately, it’s about the music – songs that we know every word to, tunes that are as synonymous with the Swinging Sixties as the term Flower Power. The Ensemble is cracking – every move studied, every nuance in voice analysed – The Drifters are phenomenal, Neil Sedaka offers good comedy and the Righteous Brothers are vocally spot on. I have no idea how the audience didn’t get up and do ‘The Locomotion’ with Little Eva or sing its way through ‘One Fine Day’!
Beautiful is full of fizz and chock-a-block with well known songs from King’s very early ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’ and Wiel and Mann’s ‘He’s Sure the Boy I Love’. Barbé treats us to half a dozen numbers from the great album itself but I would like to have heard more of her folky sound, although, even if she’d played the entire tracklist of ‘Tapestry’ twice, it wouldn’t have been enough.
A very enjoyable night out with a catalogue of tried and tested tunes that will surely stay in your head for days. Or a lifetime.
Beautiful plays at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 7th April