Tag Archives: Alan Morrissey

“Beautiful” at the Aldwych Theatre

Advice about writing reviews includes avoiding overused adjectives. Top of the list is hilarious… beautiful comes next. So, it’s a bad sign when a show has such an inane moniker. There are joyous moments in this biography of singer-songwriter Carole King – her back catalogue ensures that – but they are few and far between, leaving me mystified as to the show’s acclaim. Maybe the aim was to be beautifully simple – instead it is simply boring.

The cast of Beautiful performs well. The four leads sound great, especially Katie Brayben as King and Alan Morrissey, who plays her husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin. The ensemble takes on cameos of the stars and bands that performed King and Goffin hits with a good deal of spirit. The problem is with the book. Douglas McGrath pays only lip service to the changing times of the Sixties, while King’s life story is ticked off like a list.

Precocious teenager Carol writes a hit song. Meets a boy and writes some more hit songs. Breaks up with the boy and writes her best stuff yet. There just isn’t enough going on. Another song-writing couple, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, joins in, and McGrath makes their similarly humdrum story not just a foil but a focus. Lorna Want and Ian McIntosh, as the more spirited and humorous Weil and Mann, end up more appealing than the show’s real subjects.

The hit factory at 1650 Broadway that they all work in is the setting, under the management of Donnie Kirshner (Gary Trainor does well with this thinly-written role). The atmosphere is strangely amiable, maybe writing just wasn’t a struggle for King – I can believe it given her talent – but it turns the show into more of a CV than a story. Goffin’s adultery and nervous breakdown are downbeat: King didn’t have a nice marriage, then she got a haircut and everything was OK.

Performances of the songs by anyone else aren’t allowed to outshine King’s so they are presented, if not performed, as frigid relics – a problem since they make up most of the show. Which means Beautiful doesn’t even work as a jukebox musical. When we get to King’s success, someway into the second act, the story of Tapestry, her Grammy award-winning album, feels truncated. Any idea of her growing into a performer or her life feeding into her art, have no time to develop. Her achievements in this telling aren’t worth waiting for, which is as bad as a biography can get.

Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg


“I Can’t Sing!” at the London Palladium

I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical, which opened this week at the Palladium, is a logical fit for the theatre. It might be TV, but it’s live, essentially a variety show, with large personalities that can fill a stage. The show’s creators, Harry Hill and Steve Brown, exploit the backstories of the characters and possibilities for songs mercilessly for comedy. At once sincere and surreal, the show might just have that indefinable quality that makes a hit musical – it’s very own X factor.

But first a confession from your reviewer. I’ve never watched The X Factor. Forgive me – I’m at the theatre a lot. As well as making me akin to an alien, this created a concern that I might not have a clue what was going on. As it happens I found lots of it funny. There are a surprising number of theatre jokes and, as most do know the show (like the row behind me), I can report that you’ll be laughing like the proverbial drain. I am qualified at least to say that Sean Foley’s direction is assured and that reports of troubled previews don’t seem to have rattled the fine performers.

Simon Lipkin, Cynthia Erivo and Alan Morrissey

The leads of the show provide a plot, a neat little love story between two contestants. Cynthia Erivo plays Chenice, whose backstory – take a deep breath – of life in a caravan under the Westway with a grandfather in an iron lung and not enough money to study UFOs at Golders Green University, is so tragic that it’s envied by other contestants. With a knock-out voice that brings out the irony in the show’s hummable title song, Erivo is joined by Alan Morrissey, who has an appealing stage presence as a plumber with a ukulele who wants to change the world with his songs. The other contestants do well, too, but it’s the ever excellent Simon Lipkin who gets my vote, using the puppetry skills that made Avenue Q such a success to play Chenice’s dog, Barlow.

There are strong comic turns from the judges: the geriatric Louis (Ashley Knight) and Geordie Jordy (Victoria Elliott), headed of course by Simon Cowell, a role energetically taken by Nigel Harman. Like his television creation, Cowell seems self-consciously ripe for satire. Being lampooned so successfully must delight him (as a backer for the show) and the sheer silly scale of the satire, much of it literally messianic, keeps coming. The show contains no subtlety, surely that would be inappropriate – just a lot of laughs.

It’s a musical, so let’s not forget the songs. Brown’s compositions are efficient, and varied, but the music is very much subservient to the comedy. Several numbers are disappointing and only get along by being very loud. But, as well as the title song, there’s another great number for Morrissey, a moment of stillness among too many mock anthems that really stands out.

You could take a guess that there will be choreography with sofas. Tick the box for dancing leprechauns. I am even sure I’ve seen break-dancing monks before and, as with Jerry Springer The Opera, there are Valkyrie on call. And there are still surprises, mostly theatrical I am pleased to say, and bizarre enough to really delight in their eccentricity, with touches of George Formby, postcard-style humour and plain silliness.

There’s a strong sense of weird and wonderful minds behind I Can’t Sing! that avoids any sense of attempting to cash in on a successful formula. It’s mad but also clever stuff. And it works. Combining the prosaic and clichéd with extravagant dreams, there’s a satisfying circularity in what Hill and Brown have achieved – a show so ridiculous that it becomes inspiring.

Until 25 October 2014

Photos by Tristram Kenton

Written 28 March 2014 for The London Magazine