Brighton Year-Round 2022
Director Nikolai Foster, Orchestrations Steve Sidwel, Adapted by Musical Supervisor Sarah Travis, Set Designer Frankie Bradshaw, Choreographer Leah Hill, Costumer Designer Edd Lindley, Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell, Sound Designer Tom Marshall, Onstage Musical Director Dan-De-Cruz, Casting Director Kay Magson CDG.
Associate Director Jennifer Lane Barker, Associate choreographer Tarik Frimpong, Associate Lighting Director Dan Haseem, Birbeck Trainee Director Thyrza Abrahams, Dialect Coach Elspeth Morrison.
Production Manager Mark Carey for Shedworks Studio Ltd, Props Lizzie Frankl, Associate Supervisor Zoe Wilson (both for Propworks), CSM Zachary Holton, DSM Richard Lodge, Tech ASMs Kieran Enticknap, Naomi Ireland-Jones, ASM Book Cover Lucy Bradford, Wardrobe Manager Emma Hamlin, Wig Manager Luke Rice, Assistant Wardrobe/Wigs Danial Thatcher, LX Operators Lia Wise, Nicola Crawford, Sound Ops Zachary Woodman, Fraser Cherrington, Production Carpenter Andy Stubbs, Electrician Sonic Harrison, Sound Engineer James Hartland, Touring Access Eleanor Williams.
Till April 2nd.
The great violinist Fritz Kreisler once lost his way in a piece, and whispered to taciturn Rachmaninov accompanying him on the piano: ‘Where are we?’ ‘In Carnegie Hall.’
Classically-trained Carole King will know that story. And that’s where we start and end in the 2013 musical of her formative career from 1958-71. It’s Beautiful, with an ingenious book by Douglas McGrath featuring songs by King and her husband/writing partner Gerry Goffin, and their friends and rivals Cynthia Weil and her composer/partner Barry Mann. So not Theatre Royal Brighton. Not really.
Oliver Award-winner Molly-Grace Cutler is real though. It’s not that she inhabits King, she is to all intents and crisis-ridden purposes King herself. From her slouchy preppy confidence, sudden leaps and wise-cracking with the excellent Claire Greenway as her classical-playing mom Genie, Cutler first exudes a soaring and plunging rollercoaster of teenager confidence. And can she sing. ‘So Far Away’ a hit from her groundbreaking 1971 Tapestry album bookends the Carnegie moment from the start and shows Cutler’s range and character.
It’s there when impressing the s-t out of Garry Robson’s consummate tough-but-golden-hearted Donnie Kirshner, the producer who helps and Dutch-uncles young talent. ‘A second? For you the whole minute?’ Robson’s presence, dodgem-wheeling his chair as another character is infectious and grounding. This isn’t a tale of evil producers; the show’s feel-good is nuanced by storytelling that interrupts songs, breaks into them, breaks out of them too in a seamless morphing from relevant hit to a touch-off in King’s life, or that of her friends.
So at the start there’s even a blink of former boyfriend Neil Sedaka’s 1959 ‘Oh, Carol’ with Dan-De-Cruz in his earliest role – and he’s deliciously cut short. Sedaka went on to write, amongst other things, an echt-Prokofiev Piano Sonata.
This is what makes Beautiful distinctive. It’s so carefully wrought, so wittily unformulaic in its narrative. We get the slightly later (1962) ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ which King unusually recorded in her own voice. It wasn’t till 1971 though that she broke through as a performer of her songs.
After Kirshner tells King to up her lyric-writing game, Cutler manages more of that volatile sixteen in meeting cute wannabe college dramatist Gerry Goffin – Tom Milner’s confident wiseacre who tells King she should listen to some Bach when they first meet: Cutler/King promptly sits down and plays some.
He’s hooked, but will he always be? Goffin was a superb lyricist for King and others, and Milner finds not just the confidence, or doubt (I could have been a Miller contender) but increasingly Goffin’s restlessness, in being tied down so young, and later, sampling drugs. Milner’s latter portrayal reaches the mid-60s in a psychedelic blur of paranoia, brief but memorable, and using that set’s height in a scary gantry moment.
King might reflect she bears the brunt, and she’s not into drugs as she tells Seren Sandham-Davies’ wacky jiggy Cynthia Weil with who she almost hooks up as lyricist. But Goffin bounces back from an early wobble and Cynthia finds Jos Slovik’s professional neurotic Barry Mann. We’re treated to a string of hits as the couples battle for the Shirelles. Supreme is King’s wonderful early (1960, just seventeen!) ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ which Cutler sings with plaintive premonition and revisits several times.
There’s the sensitivity of Goffin’s lyrics too in ‘Take Good Care of my Baby’. Mann-Weil’s ‘Who Put the Bomp’ is ‘a winner, but not for the Shirelles’ Kirshner judges. Even then, King has to learn orchestration in a day before her iconic hit’s taken.
What’s so good about this foursome is the comic timing of the second couple against the King/Goffin story. That’s around everything from Slovik’s arch-laconic Mann’s ‘A lovely place for the pollen count’ and desire to wed commitment-pausing Weil, to their songs: ‘On Broadway’ ‘Walking in the Rain’ and ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ are standouts showing Mann/Weil got better and better. Slovik and Sandham-Davies with Milner are mean guitarists too.
Characters and multi-rolers sweep in as perhaps most piquantly life and art collide when King’s babysitter throws off her drab clothes and in a stripey Little Eva guise (Amena El-Kindy, not credited) becomes the voice of ‘The Locomotion’. There’s trouble ahead for the gravy train too, as after the prophetic ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ Sorrel Jordan’s soaring Janine takes ‘One Fine Day’ to a place Goffin feels impelled to follow. Jordan confidently takes Betty and Marilyn Wald too.
Directed by Nikolai Foster with a pace that never slackens even in the intense eddies of emotional crisis, the first thing that strikes you is Frankie Bradshaw’s vertiginous set.
That’s not just because ‘Beautiful’ is picked out in vertical neon downstage right. Everything on this slightly smaller-than-West End stage has been ingeniously adapted to open up Brighton’s historic space.
Bradshaw’s creation still suggests height, with gantries; and a space opening up to the flies is taken like an aquarium of light where Ben Cracknell’s stylish lighting etches the Carnegie Hall where we start and end Beautiful, in a vivid haze. Or zeroes in to what Bradshaw does with sofa movables and flying buttresses of office walls, studios – with ‘Recording’ in red the evocative scribble of an upcoming song. It’s consummate, economically signing a tiny 1964 café or the deeps of 5,000-seat auditoriums.
The way the ensemble segue in and out of each other’s moments can be pinpointed when Cutler moves up a mic for another singer, as other lead artists move sofas. Choreographer Leah Hill clearly enjoys the challenge to produce routines that can be interrupted yet still telegraph the whole story, and this production simply feels full-scale.
King learned – as we learn – how to orchestrate for strings in a day for the Shirelles. So everything grows from that, is never outsize. The cast play; Steve Sidwel’s orchestrations, adapted by musical supervisor Sarah Travis, are truthfully ranged in onstage music director Dan-De-Cruz’s hands. Tom Marshall’s sound design is gratifyingly not amped up.
Edd Lindley’s costumes stripe and shape the shifting decade – from King’s dressed-down casual, to the smart Shirelles, Righteous Brothers and Drifters through dazzling slashes and wild hair therapy.
There’s fine work too from the ensemble, swooping in and out of role. Musical supervisor Dan-De-Cruz moves on from Sedaka as a Righteous Brother after Milner’s comic attempt to sing a a pitch higher than the song’s real basso fate with Peter Mooney’s woeing beside him; Mooney takes Nick too, the man who persuades King she can sing. ‘You’ve lost’ gains quite a bit.
As The Shirelles Naomi Alade, Amena El-Kindy, Louise Francis are harmonic heaven and happy to know their place as singing royalty in a blink: they’ll take nothing but the best. Demi Clarke, Myles Miller (also hard-working Engineer) and Kevin Yates (also LA impresario Lou Adler, recommended by Kirshner) as The Drifters impress in one of those moments you have to look up to the gantry; and there’s cameo and ensemble from Chris Coxon, Dylan Gordon-Jones, Jessica Jolleys, Adrien Spencer.
Ultimately, its whether King can make it by uprooting everything to the other side of America. Answers are in a heart-rending, ultimately transporting run of songs, which show how King grows as a composer, at the lyric edge of 1970s trend-setting: ‘It’s Too Late’, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ ‘A Natural Woman’ which Adler has to persuade King to sing, as Goffin wrote the lyrics – King now writes her own – and ‘Beautiful’ where we officially end.
But as Cutler’s rightly spun around by cast members on top of the piano, there’s one thing they can’t leave out. ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ has the audience mouthing and tapping the words to this life-affirming stonk of genius.
Several said they didn’t want the show to end. ‘Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good’, King’s song taken up by Herman and the Hermits, anyone? There’s plummet depths in King’s playbook, but this will be enough: charting King’s formative, ground-breaking career, in a ravishingly detailed piece of story-telling and acting – never mind the music! Outstanding, and outstandingly transferred in a tour that brings all its stature with it.