Beautiful Audiences




On a gloomy, rainy Saturday, thousands of theater fans packed themselves tightly in Trafalgar Square for the tenth annual West End Live, a gigantic event where cast members from London’s favorite musicals running on the West End perform select songs from their respective shows.

The cast of the musical “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” had just finished singing “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “On Broadway,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Beautiful” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” and received a tepid response from the English crowd. An animated cohost for the event, Roberto, ran onstage as the cast left.

“Hey, Trafalgar Square!” Roberto shouted at the audience, “wasn’t that great?!”

“No,” an older woman standing next to me by the National Portrait Gallery remarked, “I didn’t like that very much.”

The woman turned to her friend and asked, “Did you?”

Her friend made a face and shook her head.

Though I was saddened that they did not enjoy watching the talented cast perform the catchy, iconic hits from the 1960s and 1970s, I had already heard this response to “Beautiful” the previous week.

I first saw “Beautiful” this past April on Broadway, when it opened in 2014, and loved it so much that I knew I had to see the West End production. So, I purchased a cheap ticket to see a Friday evening performance at the Aldwych Theatre and was prepared for another exciting performance of my favorite jukebox musical. And, while I still loved the show, I had a completely different experience with a less-than-enthusiastic London audience.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” takes an in-depth look at singer-songwriter Carole King’s illustrious career, from writing for the biggest R&B groups in America with partner Gerry Goffin at age 16, to recording her mega-hit solo album “Tapestry” in 1971.

In New York, I saw the show with my parents, who grew up with King’s music and, like the rest of the audience that was made up of adults around their age, could barely stay in their seats while listening to the sounds of their childhood. I could see those around me bobbing their heads and mouthing the words to almost every song throughout the show. By the finale, everyone was dancing and singing the words to “I Feel the Earth Move.” Though their dancing was bad and their singing was more like shouting, the joy these audience members were expressing was electric, making it an unforgettable theatrical experience.

My West End experience, on the other hand, was not quite the same; the London audience I saw “Beautiful” with was less expressive and not as passionate as the New York audience. Initially, I did not notice any difference in this particular audience. They were laughing at the right spots and applauding politely after every song.

Then came The Drifters.

Four actors portraying the famous R&B group, dressed sharply in 1960s-era suits and ties, sauntered onto the stage, singing Goffin and King’s “Some Kind of Wonderful.” They step-tapped and snap-clapped, perfectly in-sync. For some reason, the audience thought this was hilarious.

A slew of questions flooded my mind: Does this happen every performance? Are the performers thrown off by this? Are they used to it? Are they offended? Why is this so funny? Why is everyone laughing?

The grin that had been plastered on my face since the overture slowly faded as I uncomfortably glanced around to see people laughing hysterically. I looked across the theater from my seat and noticed two girls about my age giggling and imitating The Drifters’ moves.

After this incident, I began to notice small differences between this particular audience in London and the audience in New York. The West End audience was not mouthing the words along to the music and did not seem as invested in King’s R&B hits as its Broadway counterpart was. The neurotic character of Barry Mann seemed to be the London crowd’s favorite part of the show, and, most importantly, a joke about Carole wanting to move to New Jersey because of how “pretty” it is fell completely flat.

Even the finale – the audience sing-a-long of “I Feel the Earth Move” – did not get every single person on their feet. The couple sitting next to me stayed seated, just barely tapping their toes. People were happily singing and dancing, but they were not close to as energetic as the Saturday matinée New York audience.

In the theater community, it is universally understood that English audiences are much less rowdy than American audiences, so the subdued response was not exactly unexpected, but I was nevertheless disappointed that the infectious tunes of King could not coax them into truly letting go and surrendering themselves to the prolific music that helped define a generation.

Still, as I was leaving the Aldwych Theatre following the show, I overheard a woman comment to her husband, “That was fantastic.”


“Beautiful: The Carol King Musical”

Aldwych Theatre

49 Aldwych, London WC2B 4DF

TUBE STOP: Holborn Station (Central Line, Piccadilly Line)