The true story of the woman who sold over 75 million records and provided the soundtrack for a generation.
Carole King wrote the soundtrack to a generation in the Sixties and Seventies, with timeless classics like (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, Take Good Care of My Baby, You’ve Got a Friend, and It Might as Well Rain Until September.
But long before she was Carole King, the chart- topping music legend, she was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Now, a brand-new production of the Broadway and West End smash musical Beautiful tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom – from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Coffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history.
The Moment asked the stars of the show (Molly- Grace Cutler as Carole King, Tom Milner as Gerry Goffin, Seren Sandham-Davies as Cynthia Weil, and Jos Slovick as Barry Mann) to tell us all about the spectacular new production which is coming to the New Theatre in Peterborough.
What can audiences expect when they come to see the show?
Molly-Grace: It’s done by a full company of live musicians, which is very different to the original Broadway and West End productions and previous tours. It’s a really feel-good musical. It’s emotional and very heartwarming, to say the least.
Seren: There’s a lot of energy on stage and audiences are excited and happy to be back in the theatre. The music is infectious, we’re all so passionate about what we’re doing, and everyone leaves with a smile on their faces and the tunes going ‘round in their heads.
Jos: It’s like a gig within a play – lots of songs that people will recognise, and lots of songs they maybe didn’t know were written by Carole King, or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. They’re in for some laughs and some drama, and there’s something for everyone, from ballads and rock songs to old-style show tunes.
Tom: There’s not a thing that any of our cast members don’t do. It’s full-on because we’re acting, singing, dancing, and playing the music, so the audience certainly gets its money’s worth.
Molly-Grace, how would you describe Carole King as a character – and do you feel any pressure about bringing her to life on stage?
Molly-Grace: She’s an incredible music icon. She’s very driven and very determined, and you get to see how resilient she is as her story goes on. As for feeling the pressure, yes, there’s a lot of that – especially given that she’s still, to this day, a living legend. But I’m very happy that I’m getting to play her and her music. The big challenge is in playing someone who is still around, so people will inevitably compare you to her as well as other people who have played the role before. It’s about doing your own thing, whilst also paying respect to the people before, along with Carole herself.
Tom, Seren, and Jos, who do you play and how do they feature in Carole’s story?
Tom: Gerry Goffin is her first husband and songwriting partner. In the show he’s quite chaotic, he’s always striving for more and he eventually suffers a massive breakdown.
Seren: Cynthia Weil is part of a songwriting team with Barry Mann whose paths cross with Carole and Gerry during the Brill Building era in the 60s. As a character, she’s ahead of her time. She
doesn’t conform and she’s very prescient-plus she’s very funny, and having a female comic character to play is an absolute gift.
Jos: Barry, as Seren says, is Cynthia’s songwriter partner, as well as her husband. He’s very sharp, with a lot of that Jewish humour; think Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, because he has that kind of rhythm to him. He’s a humorous hypochondriac.
Were there things you were intrigued to learn about your characters?
Molly-King: That she married many times after Gerry Goffin! I also learned she was incredibly resilient and let nothing stand in the way of her success. She wrote from the heart, and that’s evident in every song she’s ever written. They’re very emotional.
Tom: I’d heard of Goffin and King’s music, but I didn’t realise how much they wrote and how much they did for the industry. I also didn’t know about him as a person. He was always chasing happiness and the next big thing, which set him on a downward spiral.
Seren: I knew all the Mann and Weil songs, but I didn’t know about the people who wrote them. I was intrigued by how Cynthia grew up in a conservative Jewish family but went against the grain of having that traditional life.
Jos: I knew a load of their songs, but I didn’t know who wrote them. When I was a kid, I had this talking dog toy, and when you pressed its paw it would play Who Put The Bomp. I remember asking my dad ‘Who wrote that song?’ and he told me Barry Mann. But that’s all I knew about him. I didn’t know he’d also co-written On Broadway and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, among many others.
There are so many great numbers in the show. Do you have any favourites to perform?
Molly-Grace: I’d have to say (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman because it’s such an honest, emotional song about her relationship with Gerry.
Seren: That song is very special, because it has such an impact on the audience. I also love the rockier numbers and It’s Too Late, which has a jazzier feel. There are so many good songs, it’s hard to choose between them.
Jos: I play the guitar on It’s Too Late and it’s got a great groove to it. It’s my jam, as the kids say, and Molly-Grace sings and plays it wonderfully.
Tom: There’s a song I do with the cast called Pleasant Valley Sunday and it’s a great rocking, up-tempo song.
As an actor and musician, it must be great getting to bring all your skills to the table?
Molly-Grace: Absolutely. We’re very lucky that we have such a talented cast of actors and musicians who create this amazing sound. Being an actor/musician is what I trained to do, but I think these kinds of productions are still pretty new for the theatre industry.
Tom: I love music and acting, so getting to scratch both itches with this show is brilliant. I’ve done regular acting roles, especially on TV, that I’ve loved, but it’s so creatively fulfilling, getting to do a bit of everything.
Seren: Having actor/musicians play the parts works so well for this show because it has music at its core. When you have a story like Beautiful that’s all about music and musicianship, it takes it to a whole new level.
What are you most enjoying about taking Beautiful around the country? And how do you hope people will feel when they leave the theatre?
Molly-Grace: It’s about getting to share some incredible music with people as well as getting to share Carole’s story. A lot of people don’t know enough about her, so it’s nice to show what she went through and how much she’s achieved.
Tom: It’s the kind of show everyone needs right now. We’ve all been through the pandemic and hard times, and this show has such a feelgood factor. When we do the finale, everyone is dancing, singing, clapping, and smiling. For us to take it round the country and bring people so much joy is just amazing.
Jos: When we play the finale you can’t help but feel uplifted. Carole had a bit of a rough life, but the music she produced was so wonderful that people will be skipping out of the theatre!
Seren: I hope they’ll be happy to be back in the theatre, that they feel excited and exuberant, and that they’ve made a connection during a time that’s been so hard for everyone. I just hope they feel the joy of this truly joyous show.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is at the New Theatre from Tuesday, October 25, to Saturday, October 29. Tickets from £18. To book visit newtheatre-peterborough.com or call the box office on 01733 852992.