One of popular music’s most iconic and enduring singer- songwriter’s is celebrated on the Wales Millennium Centre stage this week.
As the stage lights up, the spotlight reveals Daisy Wood-Davis as Carole King in long flowing dress, sat at piano recreating the song, So Far Away as performed at King’s 1971 Carnegie Hall concert. Pausing mid-song, Miss Wood-Davis addresses the audience, to take them back to the beginning of Carole’s song-writing career. The journey of one of the most creative and influential women in popular music begins.
The stage set shifts and changes to Carole King’s 1950s Manhattan childhood home with Carole demonstrating her composition, It Might as Well Rain until September to her mother. The set soon shifts and changes again, this time to New York’s Brill building where Carole takes her composition to producer, Don Kirschner. Kirschner signs her, a teenager to write songs for teenagers.
Carole’s rise to success follows, from forming a hit song-writing team alongside new husband Gerry Goffin, to her friendly rivalry with fellow writers, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Along the way the audience witness the creation of many familiar hit records. The eternal presence of the on-stage piano allows the audience to witness the conception of Goffin and King classics Some Kind of Wonderful and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. These in turn evolve into on-stage ensemble cast recreations by The Drifters and The Shirelles respectively, complete with stylised choreography. Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann respond with the creation of The Drifters hit On Broadway and a pro-longed but hilarious creation of The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’ and a frantic pace of feelgood creativity ensues.
With all success, comes pressure and pain. Daisy Wood-Davis projects strength and sensitivity as Carole progresses as a songwriter, wife and mother, but also deals with self-doubt as well as her husband’s infidelity and nervous breakdown. Her marriage in tatters and career evolving into that of a singer-songwriter, Carole’s soul-bearing autobiographical album Tapestry goes into production. As the recording sessions are recreated on stage, there’s an audible and visual sense of empowerment as Miss Wood-Davis performs (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, making not only a strong piece of musical theatre, but also an inspiring one.
Adam Gillian turns out a magnificent performance, combining a frustrated and flawed presence as Gerry Goffin. Laura Baldwin and Cameron Sharp as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann bring light relief to the musical’s heavier moments, with a fun on-stage chemistry projected through dialogue and music. Overseeing the proceedings is Oliver Boot’s Don Kirschner, who keeps the song writing teams moving on with a sense of knowledge, authority and humour. A high point of the show is Don, Barry and Cynthia joining Carole at the piano for the song You’ve Got a Friend, projecting a strong sense of friendship, love and bonding in performance.
The show ends as it started, with Carole King celebrating the success of Tapestry at Carnegie Hall surrounded by friends and the audience leaping out of their seats to show their appreciation of I Feel The Earth Move. A celebration of love, friendship and self-belief this excellently crafted musical is as inspiring as it is Beautiful!
Beautiful- The Carole King Musical continues at Wales Millennium Centre until March 14, 2020
Photographs by Helen Maybanks