Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until September 30.

BEAUTIFUL The Carole King Musical. Photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff
BEAUTIFUL The Carole King Musical. Photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff

Beautiful indeed. Really beautiful.

There are plenty of stage musicals around telling the life stories of the stars of yesteryear, but this one really is in a class of its own – not least because, quite apart from being brilliantly performed, it is also fascinating to watch.

Hands up if you knew anything about Carole King beforehand. Hands up if you knew all of these songs were hers.

The skill of the piece is that they are woven so seamlessly into… well, the tapestry of her life, nothing forced, everything flowing naturally to create a terrific portrait not just of a great singer-songwriter but also of her era.

We get the tricky relationship with her boyfriend/husband, the restless wayward Gerry Goffin, but also a real sense of the warm rivalry they shared with their fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – respectively and brilliantly played by Kane Oliver Parry, Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves.

But it is Bronté Barbé as Carole King herself who gives the show its beating heart as it takes us from the triumph of the Tapestry album and her Carnegie Hall show back to where it all began.

We go through her doubts and uncertainties, her creative partnership and her family struggle to see her blossom as a person, as a song-writer and eventually as a performer.

And what songs they are, all wonderfully delivered…. countless classics such as (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, Take Good Care of My Baby, You’ve Got a Friend, So Far Away, It Might as Well Rain Until September, Up on the Roof, and The Locomotion.

Barbé is simply entrancing throughout, mixing vulnerability and strength, hesitation and spirit. Just as the title demands, it’s a beautiful performance.

Phil Hewitt