Broadway

APRIL FAVOURITE: Beautiful The Carole King Musical

As a rule I tend to approach jukebox musicals with an air of caution. After all, they’re everywhere. Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages, Thriller, Buddy, Jersey Boys, Tonight’s the Night and American Idiot all fall into the jukebox category and it’s increasingly obvious that these are the shows that the general public want to see. Musicals with already-familiar-to-us scores are crowd drawers. With ticket prices soaring, theatregoers seem content to splash the cash on a show that guarantees some recognisable songs for a theatrical sing-along. With Beautiful: The Carole King Musical receiving seven Tony nominations, I wondered if this jukebox musical was a stand out candidate.I believe that theatre shows based on real life events or inspired by the lives of various iconic personas can be incredibly interesting. Evita, Funny Girl and Bonnie and Clyde are amongst my favourite shows, each providing an evening’s entertainment that is engaging, touching and memorable. The latter received mixed to negative reviews during its short Broadway run; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward flop proves that “real” storylines are not the key to success yet there is still something charming about a plot that rings true with events with which we are already familiar.

In this sense Beautiful is no different. The show details the rise of King’s career from a teenager dreaming of becoming a songwriter all the way to her first performance at Carnegie Hall. In addition, it portrays the meandering nature of her marriage to Gerry Goffin (who was also her writing partner) and her close friendship with her rival songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Although providing insight to King’s personal struggles and reluctance to step into the spotlight, I failed to make a strong connection with the plot line or any of the characters presented to me. Drawn in by the polished and witty script by Douglas McGrath, I did not feel any emotional link forming between myself and the stage therefore could not share the joys or sorrows of any characters throughout the show.

In addition to the polished writing, scene changes are well executed and the scenery itself is relatively simple and effective. Through an array of costumes and colour featured in the show, the character of Cynthia Weil enjoys a selection of attractive outfits, contrasting with the motherly wardrobe of King. There is a particularly impressive on stage costume change towards the end of act one as a plainly dressed babysitter transforms into Little Eva and performs The Locomotion. The music featured in the show, as anyone who is familiar with Carole King’s work will already know, is simply stunning. Her melodies are haunting and continue to echo around my mind. Anyone interested in King’s work or this show will benefit from a purchase of the cast recording which ranges from You’ve Got a Friend to On Broadway and Will You Love Me Tomorrow to a clever rewriting of Happy Days Are Here Again.

I wish Beautiful: The Carole King Musical the best of luck for the Tonys 2014. They are true contenders and I hope they receive the recognition they deserve.

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OCTOBER FAVOURITE: Grey Gardens

Through the not-so-wonderful world of bootlegs on YouTube, I recently discovered the musical Grey Gardens. Although this show premiered on Broadway in 2006, it seems to have almost been completely forgotten by the world. I certainly have not heard anyone discussing this gem of a show over the last few years which is truly a pity as I believe it is one of the best shows I have seen. The contents of the show are far from forgettable. The music and lyrics are witty, catchy and often haunting.  The costumes and scenery are also very memorable and with a cast as strong as the original Broadway company it really is a mystery that Grey Gardens isn’t the musical hit I believe it deserves to be. 
 
 Grey Gardens tells the story of both the somewhat eccentric aunt and the cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two women, who were once rich and socially polished aristocrats, became the most notorious recluses in East Hampton. Act One presents a  fictitious account of what life may have been like for Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little” Edie in 1941, when they were at the peak of their social status. Act Two is set 32 years later and is heavily based on the 1975 Maysles Brothers’ documentary, also titled ‘Grey Gardens,’ that followed the everyday lives of the socialites during their reclusive years. 
 
After viewing the musical, I took the opportunity to view the 1975 documentary. I was instantly aware that Act Two of the musical is laced with quotations, conversations and actions that are featured in the documentary. Christine Ebersole, who plays Little Edie in Act Two (and Big Edie in Act One) creates a staggeringly accurate portrayal of Little Edie in her reclusive days. I was thrilled to read afterwards that Ebersole received a Tony award for this role. She successfully brought Little Edie to life on stage every night – this award was well and truly deserved. Mary Louise Wilson received the Tony award for Best Featured Actress. Her portrayal of Big Edie in Act Two was just as accurate as Ebersole’s and the two actresses worked wonderfully well together to portray the squabbling pair and highlight their dysfunctional relationship.
 
Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that the musical “brings to mind two phrases seldom linked nowadays: ‘Broadway musical’ and ‘artistic integrity’… the songs, with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, sustain a level of refined language and psychological detail as elevated as Stephen Sondheim’s. The score is a meticulously fashioned piece of musical theater that gains in depth the more you listen to it.” I could not agree with Holden more. I have found myself listening the Broadway cast recording on repeat over the past few weeks and the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate this fine piece of work.
Grey Gardens is a musical masterpiece that tells the hilariously funny yet also heartbreaking story of the fallen socialites Edith Bouvier Beale and Little Edie. It is a show I highly recommend. I can only hope that one day this show will get the recognition it deserves.