Theatre Review: Esther Hannaford Shines in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Performances until June 24th)

When news first broke of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical making its way to Australia, the buzz was high. But who would play the coveted role of Carole King? In what has to be one of the best casting triumphs in Australian musical theatre history, Esther Hannaford was the prized winner. It’s safe to say that no-one else can compare to such an artist like Hannaford, and it’s this artistry that resonates through King’s music. The two are in a way kindred spirits where storytelling is a gift for those of us who truly listen.

Melbourne audiences are in for one thrilling night at the theatre to celebrate the life and legacy of some of the most talented singer-songwriters in the world; Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. For decades, these two couples created some of the best songs ever written, that stand the test of time and transcend generations. We’ve all grown up in one way or another listening to the sweet melodies of their work, but to see it brought to life in some-what of a biographical way, well that just added all the more heart to these songs.

Starring alongside Hannaford are Josh Piterman as Goffin, Lucy Maunder as Weil and Mat Verevis as Mann. What an outstanding quartet. I cannot speak highly enough of their commitment to these four people who are in fact still alive today, a part from Goffin who sadly passed in 2014. The highs, lows  and pressures were so real for these budding songwriters back in the 1960s, but one thing that resonated the most throughout this stunning retelling was the notion of friendship. In what is normally a rather cut-throat industry, somehow these four managed to grow a friendship spanning 50 years all the while maintaining a little bit of healthy competition. What Hannaford, Piterman, Maunder and Verevis were able to show is that mutual love and respect was a value held in high esteem, and as such this is a love story about music and friendship.

It is important to note that this is not your average jukebox musical; this is a world-class performance by some of our nation’s greatest talents. With a cast of 24 bringing such joy to my heart with each lyric and note, I can’t begin to explain how much of an effect this show had on me. It will have you beaming and toe-tapping along but please, might I stress, do not and I repeat do not sing along at the top of your lungs. It is highly distracting and ruins the performance as a whole.

As song after song unveiled itself the more it became obvious that the emotional impact was heightened as a result of how well developed each scene was. Under the direction of Marc Bruni, the cast as a whole were able to enjoy each moment in their own right and find the beauty within each song. You name it, ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘Locomotion’, ‘Chains’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ all hold merit and are a testament to the creative minds behind that wrote them. But sure enough, ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ was a show stopping moment for King and Hannaford. The audience was transfixed, myself included, by the effortless wonder of an amalgamation of two artists on stage at once.

This is easily a show that you can see more than once as it will enrich your soul and re-inspire you.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical  is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne until June 24th. Tickets are on sale HERE now. Brisbane, you’re up next!

The reviewer attended the show on opening night, Thursday February 22nd.