Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Four stars

When Carole King’s second album, Tapestry, was released in 1971, its appearance marked how bubblegum pop music had become a serious artform. King’s deeply personal set of songs also marked the epochal societal shifts that had liberated her and her peers enough to make a record to call her own.

The late Douglas McGrath’s multi-winning musical channels King’s life from her days in Brooklyn as a smart teenager with stars in her eyes, to the musical icon she became. Framing his book with King’s seminal post Tapestry concert at Carnegie Hall, McGrath has the singer going back to her precocious beginnings writing hit singles when she was sixteen, to her fertile professional partnership and tumultuous marriage with lyricist Gerry Goffin.


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With equally successful songwriting rivals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil acting as a more straightforward counterpoint to King’s irresistible rise, King becomes an L.A. woman and lady of Laurel Canyon as she helps usher in the Me Generation.

Sam Hardie’s flagship production for this summer’s Pitlochry season takes advantage of the emotional intimacy of King’s work. Opening with an array of instruments leant up against the stage curtain, and with a piano centre stage, Jessica Worrall’s set has the feel of an old school cabaret emporium. Hardie’s cast of fourteen work tirelessly across it, doubling up as assorted Drifters, Shirelles and Righteous Brothers as well as becoming the show’s house band.

Carole King Carole King (Image: free)

If Hardie is on to a winner from the start with King’s back catalogue, it needs a considerable performer to bring both the songs and their writer to life. From the first moment Kirsty Findlay sits at the piano, she steps up to the challenge magnificently. As she spars with Connor Going’s troubled Gerry, Findlay invests Carole with impressive depth and emotional range that match the songs.

Vocally, Findlay goes beyond jukebox musical tribute to capture King’s essence with verve and panache and make every song her own in a gloriously celebratory portrait of an artist who, by finding her own voice, inspired the generations of women who followed in her wake.