“Remember when you used to play Mozart?”
I’ve been lucky enough to see Cassidy Janson in a number of productions over the years and I’ve been a fan from the start, from stepping into Julie Atherton’s not-inconsiderable shoes in Avenue Q onwards, so I was mightily pleased when she was announced as the replacement for Katie Brayben in the lead role in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. I really enjoyed the show when it opened last year and thought Janson would be a good fit but in finally getting to see her, I couldn’t have imagined how perfect a marriage of performer and material this would be.
As Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters of the last century, she thoroughly imbues the character with an engaging sense of life and vivid musicality that just bursts from the stage. Through a decade of huge change as this ebullient Manhattan teenager becomes a wife and mother as well as writing some of the biggest pop hits around, Janson keeps us thoroughly engaged with Douglas McGrath’s sometimes-a-bit-too-functional book whether acting, singing or acting through song – if she weren’t already a star, I’d say it’s a star-making performance.
What also surprised me was how much I enjoyed the show itself second time round. It really is a fine example of the jukebox form, even more so in light of Motown’s arrival which follows a similar format in its tracking of a hit factory. But where that show stuffs in so many songs that we’re lucky to get more than 90 seconds thereof, here the tracklisting has been pared back to allow the music time to breathe. So with the likes of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ first get the acoustic demo treatment which then leads into the fully-orchestrated version by the Shirelles or the Drifters, allowing the audience to hear King’s voice in even the most drastic arrangements of her compositions.
It’s far from a one-woman show though. Alan Morrissey is rakishly appealing as Gerry Goffin, King’s partner in lyrics and love, and Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh are just cracking great fun as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, buddies and rival songwriters whose competitive spirit pushed them all to greater heights, under the watchful eye of Gary Trainor’s dryly witty turn as producer Don Kirshner. Jason Howland’s musical direction keeps this amazing roster of songs sounding wonderfully fresh, Alejo Vietti’s quick-change costumes are a joy to behold and the whole production feels in really good shape, anchored as it is by a woman at the top of her game, having the time of her life. All hail the Janson.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th February 2017