Tag Archives: Lorna Want

“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


“The Fantasticks” at the Duchess Theatre

The Fantasticks is the simplest of stories, staged minimally to emphasise theatricality and dealing with universals. Archetypal characters and situations are presented with comedy and tragedy painted broadly. If you want to sound clever you can say it uses the oldest performance traditions, with a narrator as chorus and drawing on commedia dell’arte. It is designed to appeal to all and, as the success of its songs by Harvey Schmidt, along with its 50-year run in New York indicates, it does so.
Boy meets girl and they fall in love. Cue glitter. There seems to be an obstacle – their warring fathers. Overcome this and the result is more glitter. A further set of problems to confirm this love is the real thing and you have a finale that includes (you guessed it) glitter. There really is a lot of glitter.

The book and lyrics by Tom Jones are far more knowing than this outline suggests. His reference is as much Pyramus and Thisbe performed by the rude mechanicals as Romeo and Juliet. It is a surprise, therefore, that Amon Miyamoto’s production is so heavy handed when it comes to sentiment. An observation that the production is ‘avant garde’ gets the biggest laugh of the evening, as the black jutting stage and mawkish choreography are jarring. As is the audience participation with those sitting on stage drafted into the action. It may prove some point for the director but it does little for the show.

Unfortunately this overdose of sincerity seems to have made an impression on the younger members of the cast. Luke Brady and Lorna Want have great voices but look as if they are trying too hard. Hadley Fraser shares this problem when he comes to deliver the play’s numerous homely truths as The Narrator but he also gets the chance to show great comic talent when he plays the bandit El Gallo. Clive Rowe and David Burt seem to make getting laughs easy work. They are wonderful together. Likewise Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge who are conscripted in a plot to bring the lovers together. From the moment of their wonderful entrance on stage they are laugh-out-loud funny. Petherbridge really is fantastic and is in total control of the audience.

The Fantasticks is a joyous celebration of the power of your imagination. You have to be hard hearted indeed not to love such an appealing show even if it is essential to revel in the incredible and let yourself go. And why not? Sometimes it is great to take things with a pinch of salt. Or maybe a pinch of glitter.

Photo by Dan Tsantilis

Written 11 June 2010 for The London Magazine