True to its title, Beautiful, this musical relates the story of singer and songwriter Carole King. Performed at the Aldwych Theatre in London, I found this to be an enjoyable and light musical.
I will start with a short analysis of characterisation. All performances were strong in this performance, each actor was believable, be they with small parts or large, and all encapsulated the starry 50’s television theme. Whilst the writing and American accents were, at parts, cheesy – as most musicals are – the majority of lines were carried with a good comprehension of objective and great expression. Perhaps the only place where characterisation lacked was in expression of confusion or distress, and this lowered the melancholic tones of certain scenes, particularly those involving Matthew Seadon-Young, for this performer’s expression of confusion was the most unrealistic.
I mentioned that a component of this musical was its starry television theme, and this was something highly notable and engaging in this musical. The harsh spotlights and deep tones of pink and blue gave the stage a reminiscent feel, leaning towards the popular music videos of the 1950's. Effective. However, perhaps a little too harsh, in regards to the lighting, for parts best kept hidden, like actors hiding or talking behind flats, and the structures of stage wagons, were often visible in the lights’ intensities.
On to the music. The music was undeniably catchy and along with the dancing – well-choreographed by Josh Prince – portrayed the characteristics of groups like The Drifters and The Shirelles highly efficaciously. However, it was often the case that, when at the piano, playing an immense part in this production, characters often visibly mimed using the instrument, their hands hovering wildly above the keys. This took away from the realism of it, for me. Additionally, a scene at the beginning of the musical, where we are introduced to the music publishers and the office of Donnie Krishner, was executed with a low energy. This scene comprised an array of instrumentalists, vocalists and musician scattered around the stage on varying levels. Whilst this created an interesting dynamism and visual, constant cutaways made focus too directed and elaborated an otherwise high-energy scene. Moreover, a moment where all performers took a quick and melodramatic swig of a glass, cup, or whatever they had nearby, was very lacking due to an absence of synchronisation – some characters didn’t even lift their drinks – and little moments like this, glimpses of the stage wagons, and visible mimes, take away from the effervescence of a scene, and this was something that happened regularly. Not to mention, a lot of the music was pre-recorded – clear, as the orchestral pit was visible in the harsh lights – and this was rather disappointing, especially given its frequency and conspicuousness.
I would say that this was also the calmest musical I have seen. Whilst there were certainly dance sections, these seemed to be rather stiff or centred to specific places in the stage. Furthermore, a lot of the numbers took place on the piano, where a layering of Carole’s version (for example) and the version of the singer who would later perform it would have perhaps more effective. I say this because it was quite predictable: Carole would sing a song, and in the following scene, a group of singers would take it on. And this was an over-repeated pattern. This repetition was also characteristic of an overly recurring joke throughout – a singer appearing on the side of the stage to sing dramatically and cheesily to the audience. Overused.
However, it is perhaps this calmness that makes it effective for its audience, being that it is clearly targeting a mature spectator who had grown up around this style of music and performance. Nevertheless, all potential audience types must obviously be considered.
Saying this, moments of classic theatrical wizardry – quick changes, instant transitions, snow on stage, etc. - certainly added an exciting layer to this. The use of dual scenes – although seldom used – also added a nice change to the predictability.
Overall, this performance is very enjoyable, but predictable in parts and, sometimes, simply messy. But, for its targeted audience, it is effective.