The Shirelles. Photo: Joan Marcus

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Carole King is undoubtedly one of the greatest songwriters of all time. With a career beginning at just sixteen years old, she has written or co-written hits performed by the biggest pop artists spanning five decades including The Shirelles, The Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin and The Monkees just to name a handful.

Given the catalogue of incredible music, a jukebox musical would seem like a no-brainer – but Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is absolutely not a jukebox musical! It’s a warm, honest portrayal of the songwriter’s career and life pre the pivotal Tapestry album of 1971.

Director, Marc Bruni has been with the show from its San Francisco premiere in 2013, through Broadway, the West End and now in Sydney. He’s thrilled about coming to Australia and excited about working with the people here, “I was really astonished by the level of talent that we were able to assemble.”

When Bruni was first asked to direct the musical, he had a cursory knowledge of King’s music, but exposure to her songs and story have converted him to fandom. The musical covers the period in King’s life before she became a singer and Bruni reacted to her portfolio of songs the way he believes many audience members will.

“OMG I had no idea she wrote that…and that…and that!”

Along with King’s co-writer/husband Gerry Goffin, the show also features another incredibly successful songwriting duo, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Their hits include You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and On Broadway.

“It’s an embarrassment of riches of songs!” says Bruni, but is quick to point out that it is not a mere parade of hits, “We’re not taking the content of the song and trying to make them fit the plot…There’s nobody breaking down on the side of the road and needing help from someone named Rhonda.”

Instead, it’s a show about songwriting, about how songs are written, the inspiration and why they become hits. The songs are an integral part of the narrative, for instance, It’s Too Late is sung just after Carole leaves Gerry.

King herself resisted seeing the show initially, but has since been known to frequent different productions. She also has casting approval over the lead role. According to Bruni “she is very aware of Esther who is playing Carole here, and instantly approved her.”

Esther Hannaford is a multi-award winning theatre performer and herself a singer/songwriter. Bruni says each new ‘Carole’ brings a different quality to their portrayal and he’s very excited about Hannaford’s skills.

“No matter who plays Carole, the audience always comes out and says ‘Oh My God, she’s just like Carole King!’”

Sep 17-Dec 23. Sydney Lyric Theatre, 80 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont. $60-$165+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.beautifulmusical.com.au

By Rita Bratovich