As summer draws to an end and the dark evenings creep in, York Stage bring another wonderful offering to the Grand Opera House stage – which is nothing short of ‘Beautiful’.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical does exactly what it says on the tin and shows us the life of the legendary singer/songwriter and her personal and professional journey to fame.
From her youth with her Mum who was tainted by love, to her high-speed roller-coaster of a romance with Gerry Goffin, she managed to find her way into Donny Kirshner’s office and with one successful song, began an illustrious career.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical is at the Grand Opera House York from Friday 15 to Saturday 23 September.
I was lucky enough to see the professional production in Vancouver on my travels earlier this year, so unlike some of the audience, I knew what fantastic treat was in store – and of course York Stage did not disappoint.
There is absolutely no denying who the star of the show was as Grace Lancaster took on the enormous task of playing Carole King. It not only required her to embody the unique mannerisms and voicing of the singer, it also required her to play piano live onstage – something even the most capable of musicians would find daunting.
However, Lancaster did so effortlessly, from her first walk onto the stage, she gave her all and she is nothing short of a star!
She lead the company with ease and I specifically was impressed with her chemistry with Frankie Bounds’ Gerry Goffin, who together brought some powerful scenes to a musical usually focused on the songs.
Bounds’ performance was fantastic, which with a character arc like Goffin’s is no easy task and his vocals especially the start of ‘Up on the Roof’ which was a beautiful moment of still within an otherwise non-stop show.
Some other standout performers have to be the lovable Bryan Bounds as Donny Kirshner who had an undeniable presence whenever he was onstage, and Alex Hogg’s hilarious Barry Mann who had the audience chuckling throughout.
As with every opening night, there was the occasional sound balancing issue or hesitation from characters as they found their feet and handled their nerves but overall it was nothing short of a success. Each member of the production both onstage and off is a credit to the city of York and the creative team behind the magic: director Nik Briggs, choreographer Danielle Mullan-Hill and musical director Stephen Hackshaw, who can never go unappreciated.
The music is at the heart of this musical and I specifically enjoyed hearing the audience’s reactions as each new song began – their was a unanimous sense of excitement felt for what was about to come. Upon leaving the theatre the main comment I overheard was ‘I didn’t know Carole King wrote that song’ or ‘I didn’t know she wrote so many classics’; many are unaware of the genius behind each tune and I am very grateful this musical enables this to be revealed. From ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ to ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, there is a song for everyone to enjoy and tap their feet along to!
These numbers brought us some incredible 60s and 70s artists including the amazing Drifters (Faisal Khodabukus, Christopher Knight, Munya Mswaka and Baz Zakeri) who truly put on a show each time they entered the stage.
These classics were performed by a band proudly situated onstage for us to fully appreciate, which was a great choice by the creative team. Led by Stephen Hackshaw, they provided great depth to the score of the show. The staging was otherwise simplistic, with constant moving pieces which were sometimes a distraction however I appreciated the changes from decade to decade which helped portray the quick passing of time.
The costuming was fabulous and transported the audience back in time, and some appreciation must go to Phoebe Kilvington for her hair and make-up work as I lost count of how many fabulous wigs Lancaster alone wore throughout.
The large ensemble was somewhat of a surprise to me and I did feel at times the stage was busier than necessary but York Stage are all about bringing the community together and they certainly did that; Locomotion, excellently performed by Nicole Kilama, was a highlight – there was as real party onstage.
I thought this balanced especially well with the more tender moments of the show, a high point being ‘You’ve Got a Friend’, a real testament to Carole and the longstanding relationships she made in her life. I loved these stripped back moments just as much as I loved the big ensemble ones and actually hoped for more of this throughout.
With a tease at the start, the title song ‘Beautiful’ was well awaited by the audience but did not disappoint once performed, and this definitely helped seal the well deserved standing ovation for Lancaster’s performance as King.
Despite it being a show presented as a one woman journey, it is so much more than that. It presents themes of strong friendships, turbulent relationships and the power of self-advocacy – we can all learn something from Carole’s story and life. York Stage should be proud of the way they brought her story and life to the Grand Opera House stage.
As they say in the show: York Stage, you’re going all the way with this one! Don’t miss out on Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical is at the Grand Opera House York until Saturday 23 September. Tickets start from £13 and are available here.