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ESTHER Hannaford has already proven herself a singular talent in musicals such as King Kong, Little Shop Of Horrors and Hairspray. But in Beautiful she emerges as a fully-fledged star, giving a sublime performance in the central role of singer-songwriter Carole King.
She sings like an angel, and her acting comes straight from the heart. Naturally, the show is written so that the audience is rooting for King, but Hannaford makes you really care about her.
Beautiful traces King’s career from 1960 when as a Brooklyn teenager she wrote the chart-topping Will You Love Me Tomorrow, to 1971 when she found solo success with her legendary album Tapestry.
Along the way, we see her meet and marry her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, co-write hits for artists such as The Drifters, The Shirelles and Little Eva (yes, King and Goffin wrote Locomotion), and then find her own voice when their marriage fails. In many ways, it’s a story of female empowerment.
Writer Douglas McGrath has cleverly included King and Goffin’s friendly rivalry with songwriting duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, which expands the songbook and puts King’s songs into a context. And what a songbook it is, including You’ve Got A Friend, One Fine Day, It’s Too Late, On Broadway and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.
Though McGrath’s script takes a straightforward approach, Beautiful is one of the classiest jukebox musicals around, up there with the excellent Jersey Boys, with an equally slick design.
Marc Bruni, who directed the original 2014 Broadway production, has drawn strong acting performances from the cast. Josh Piterman impresses as the mentally unstable, womanising Goffin.
Amy Lehpamer and Mat Verevis make a wonderful double act as the feisty Weil and hypochondriac Mann. They are both very funny and nail their vocals, with Verevis absolutely rocking We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place. Mike McLeish is spot-on as music producer Don Kirshner, and Anne Wood lends nice support as King’s mother.
The routines for The Drifters and Shirelles, meanwhile, are fun but lack pizzazz and polish.
For all King’s emotional ups and downs, Beautiful is a joyous, celebratory show, at the heart of which is Hannaford’s flawless performance.
Her transformation from shy, frumpy girl to “natural woman” and solo artist is, well, beautiful.
When she sits at the piano to sing the title number, we feel we’ve really come to know her. Divine.
Source: entertainment dailytelegraph