I think it’s safe to say I didn’t really know what to expect from my night at the Aldwych Theatre. Initially, all I heard were rave reviews about the Carole King Musical, but since then I’ve also been regaled with a tale of woe from a friend who went to see it – and didn’t have the best experience ever, let’s say. So, in some ways, that did actually leave me able to experience the show quite neutrally.
I hate to say it, but I was pretty underwhelmed. I mean, the semblance of story was stilted at best; it mainly just seemed like chronology. Bits of dialogue to set up the next song. I really feel like I should have been made to care about Carole and Gerry, however I felt more invested in the subplot concerning Barry and Cynthia! They did actually undergo some character development – and there was real chemistry between Ian McIntosh and Lorna Want, which immediately makes things more engaging and believable.
And I really didn’t like the scene with Gerry’s breakdown. I’m still struggling to work out whether it was the portrayal or the writing… Possibly a combination of both? Something like that needs to be handled with a bit of delicacy – and is another element that would benefit from the existence of a storyline.
Quick question: why did everyone find The Drifters so hilarious? I started to get the feeling I missed a memo on that score…
I steadfastly refused to give a standing ovation at the end – I’m not a member of the X Factor judging panel; I don’t just dish ovations out like sweets! But then they started singing again, everyone around me was on their feet, so I felt stupid at the prospect of staying in my seat for an encore, and I stood up. Only for them to finish after about 30 seconds! Definitely felt bullied into standing. I’ll be more stubborn another time!
But it wasn’t all bad. The songs are fantastic (well, you don’t need to go to the show to work that one out) and are very well done – my only bugbear was the apparent need to do two full renditions of some of the songs. One after the other. A mashup of the two versions would be more than adequate! My favourite song in the entire show was definitely ‘1650 Broadway Medley’ – slightly awkwardly not a King number…
The sets were a-maz-ing. And there was some impressive lighting on display – my particular favourite is during The Drifters’ ‘On Broadway’.
A couple of the onstage costume changes were almost like magic tricks (The Shirelles and Little Eva, before their big numbers).
Ian McIntosh was easily the funniest person on the stage. His performance as hypochondriac Barry Mann managed to be both hilarious and moving at times. I loved his version of ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’!
And Katie Brayben. What a voice! Simply stunning, immensely powerful. Probably my favourite Carole moment was ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, right near the end of the entire show. It did seem like a perfect culmination of Carole’s transition from songwriter to performer.
So it all depends on what you want to get out of your evening. If you’re just there for the songs, you’re in for a treat! However, if you’re like me and need a storyline to get invested in, I’d try elsewhere.
Looking back on the night, I can’t help but make comparisons with other ‘origins’ musicals. Beautiful just doesn’t stand up against them! (One in particular, with an astounding book, but I’ve talked about that before…) I really do feel like the cast is worth far more of the ticket price than the show itself.
To quote Gerry (one of the most irritating recurring script lines in the show), “I’ve got a prediction”: I won’t be back for more.
Perhaps I’ll see you after February 2016, Aldwych?