Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

2023 Gold Coast Season - Musical Review

With typically one season under their belt per year since 2018’s QPAC season of Rent, Matt Ward Entertainment has transitioned to offering multiple musical productions in 2023 – the focus of this review, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, a July 2023 production of Billy Elliot the Musical, and purportedly a Spring 2023 production of American Idiot. In recent years confining their productions to the Gold Coast, Queensland – MWE has brought major producer levels of quality to an ever-growing city that isn’t usually covered by the big players in the industry. But with the extra demand on the producer’s resources, have they been stretched a bit too thin or do they continue to thrive as brightly as their (downright amazing) production of Priscilla last year? Read on to find out!

There are musicals abound in the performing arts scene that tell the story of an artist. Beautiful sets itself apart from the competition through one element – Carole King. King spent many years of her younger years exclusively as a lyricist, before eventually, through the events told in the musical, becoming a singer-songwriter. Therefore, for a good act and a half and serving as the foundation of the story, we see King during her songwriting days, as her claim to #1 songs rises, her complex relationship with lyricGerry Goffin, and building friendships with others in the industry come to a head. It would be easy for this to have been a simple disco musical, and I remember thinking it would be just that when the first Australian national tour did the rounds a few years ago. But what we get is a surprisingly complex and narrative-rich story that is well-paced and has an appeal to both fans, and complete newcomers to King’s work and/or history. It is a tale perfect for a 2-and-a-bit hour runtime, with no filler, nor skipped-over content.

As you might expect, many songs crafted by Carole King are present in this musical, including but by no means limited to Some Kind of Wonderful, The Locomotion, One Fine Day and the titular song Beautiful. While some songs are performed in some form by the lead cast, given they were created for other bands and music groups, much heavy lifting is done by the ensemble cast as they replicate the artists of the era. It is such a fun means of watching the years pass, fashion styles move on, and music styles change. With Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann also being pivotal secondary characters in the life of King, having some of their songs featured – especially the amazing On Broadway in the first act was also a smart inclusion, giving the competition between them and King/Goffin that extra oomph.

As established above, the foundations of Beautiful as a musical itself are strong and do much to set itself apart from other similar musicals on the market. But what about the elements that are unique to this Gold Coast production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical?

In terms of the lead cast, I think they picked a strong, diverse assortment of local and interstate talent to fill the shoes of each character, even if they were going up against a truly remarkable Carole King, Esther Hannaford, in the Australian national tour between 2017 and 2018. Julia Dray is exquisite as King, managing to capture the emotion, slight quirkiness and talent of her character on stage. While having limited singing time, Stephen Mahy was a great pick as Gerry Goffin, Marcus Rivera was one of the most memorable actors on-stage as Don Kirshner, and the on-stage chemistry between Elenoa Rokobaro and Tim Carroll as Barry Mann was strong.

The ensemble cast was a bit more of a mixed bag, not necessarily due to the talent on-stage being mixed, but rather it felt like the choreography and stage directions could have used a few more run-throughs, as some of the song number performances were stiff or had some weird positioning. That could just be me however and did not detract from the enjoyability of the show – as most of it met my expectations. Plus, vocals all-around were great at capturing the songs of the eras.

If there is one thing I love about the art of staging in musical productions, it is when it is possible to bring the band onto the stage and have a presence alongside the cast – even without speaking lines. The set design had a real recording studio vibe, across two levels that encompassed the rear and much of the sides of the stage. Through this, not only do we see some of the performances take place as if they were being recorded in the recording studio, but there are dedicated areas where you can watch the band play the live music. Staging has always been one of the areas I have seen MWE being uncompromising on, and they nailed it once again. And yes, after the audio levels pretty much ruined my experience at MWE’s 2021 production of Mamma Mia! The Musical, the audio came out perfectly – except for a few moments of audio levels being a wee bit too soft.

Now, this isn’t something I will be detracting any points from, as ultimately, it is beyond the control of the team behind Beautiful. However, the atmosphere outside the theatre for opening night was pumping, and definitely what you want to see – with eager audience members, a photo wall and all the other bits that make opening night, opening night. This was great to see. However, the atmosphere of the theatre, at least from where I was seated, was much rowdier than I am used to. From someone shouting out comments and lines as if it were a Rocky Horror musical, to the constant conversation around me, mobile phone usage, latecomers post-interval, and more than the isolated incident of people needing to go to the loo mid-show… it felt like typical theatre etiquette was a bit lacking. Again one audience, on one night, and still 99% of the audience followed etiquette well, but there were more than enough distractions to break my immersion regularly.

A nifty takeaway as well, the theatre can get pretty chilly, so while you probably don’t want to layer up when in the midst of a heatwave, consider bringing a throw, shawl or even a light jacket if you are sensitive to colder temperatures.

When you look at some of the recent past productions from Matt Ward Entertainment such as Mamma Mia! The MusicalPriscilla: Queen of the DesertWicked, and Rent – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical does feel like a bit of an odd one out. However, I think this production played to the clear strengths of the producer. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem like it had the same level of intensity as some of their earlier productions, which could potentially assist them in juggling their resources between work on 2-3 productions this year. While some elements could have used refinement or an extra touch of polish, it was an overall enjoyable night out at the theatre – with a great narrative, excellent songs, a great cast, and some exceptional staging.


Review tickets to opening night were provided by Matt Ward Entertainment and their publicity team for the purpose of this review.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is performing at The Star Gold Coast until 9 April 2023 inclusive.

Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.

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