REVIEW: York Stage in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Grand Opera House, York, moving the earth until Saturday ****

Grace Lancaster at the piano in her role as Carole King in York Stage’s York premiere of Beautiful. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

BEAUTIFUL is “filled with the songs you remember – and a story you’ll never forget”, says Nik Briggs, director and producer of York Stage’s York premiere of The Carole King Musical.

Put another way, there are songs you know but may not know they are by Brooklyn-born Carole, whose story stayed in the background, much like Carole herself did until moving centre stage with Tapestry, before Douglas McGrath wrote the book for the musical. Tony and Grammy awards have ensued.

Leeds Grand Theatre played host to the first British tour in June 2018, and now Briggs delivers a sparkling York production every note as enjoyable, as lushly musical and, typical of Briggs, visually impactful too, with a wonderful lead performance by Grace Lancaster, a York-raised triple threat of singer, musician and actress.

McGrath’s book does not reveal the full tapestry – King’s flop 1970 debut album, Writer,  is as absent as James Taylor – but it wholly captures the spirit, courage and resilience of her constant creativity that blossomed as a teenager, told here with warmth, wit and charm, pathos too, and bursts of frank Jewish humour in her exchanges with her wise, if cautious mother, Genie Klein (Sandy Nicholson, perfect casting), a Manhattan teacher who would prefer her daughter to follow that career path too.

Teenagers in love: Grace Lancaster’s Carole King and Frankie Bounds’ Gerry Goffin in Beautiful. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Bookended by Carole’s celebrated performance at Carnegie Hall, with Lancaster at the grand piano, Beautiful’s storyline opens with ordinary schoolgirl Carole Klein writing incessantly at 16, landing her first songwriting deal with Donnie Kirshner (an urbane Bryan Bounds) as Carole King.

Utilising cast members for scenery moves, Beautiful cracks on in a whirl, much like Carole’s songwriting success. She meets lyricist and putative playwright Gerry Goffin (Frankie Bounds), her fellow teen, and is pregnant and married at 17. What a productive partnership!

The hits keep piling up from their Kirshner-administered songwriting factory for the likes of The Drifters (Faisal Khodabukus, Christopher Knight, Munya Mswaka and Baz Zakeri) and The Shirelles( Cyanne Unamba Oparah, Maria Ghurbal, Nicole Kilama and Lauren Charlton-Matthews, who also plays Janelle Woods). Delightful performances all round.

Even their babysitter (Kilama’s Little Eva) hits the chart peak with The Loco-Motion – and everyone’s doing The Loco-Motion in black and white in the show’s best ensemble choreography by Danielle Mullan-Hill.

Frankie Bounds’ Gerry Goffin, centre, performing Pleasant Valley Sunday in an ensemble number in Beautiful. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Unlike too many jukebox musicals, McGrath’s script does more than link the songs, telling the story behind them with breezy dialogue, yet giving due space to life-changing events, as the story moves between recording studio, record company offices, the home and the concert hall.

If Beautiful underplays the ugly side of the story, the restless, unfaithful Goffin’s straying from the happy-at-home Carole, Frankie Bounds (in his Marlon Brando white vest) seeks to invest the role with more darkness of the soul. He is no pantomime villain, even though one stage entry is greeted with a boo from one voice in the dress circle at Saturday’s matinee.

For contrast with the brooding Bounds’s increasingly troubled Goffin and the downward spiral of the Goffin-King marriage, the friendly rivalry at Kirshner’s 1650 Broadway building with fellow songwriting partners Barry Mann (Alex Hogg) and Cynthia Weil (Harriet Yorke) is depicted with lightness and plenty of laughter, as they progress, step by slower-than-Gerry and-Carole step to a number one hit (You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling) and wedding bells. Hogg’s somewhat hangdog, anxious Mann is ever humorous; Yorke’s Weil more spiky.

Canny operator: Bryan Bounds as recording company boss Donny Kirshner. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Throughout, Lancaster conquers York. What a talent! Leeds Conservatoire tutor by day, New York Brass Band saxophonist and clarinet player by night, she has polished up her piano playing too to complement her delightful singing voice, as uplifting and moving as King’s, especially on Tapestry’s songs from the broken heart.

From precociously gifted yet demure teenager, to diligent young mother, to solo singer-songwriter, embracing the spotlight at last after such hurt, Lancaster evokes all facets of the King character. Her renditions of It’s Too Late and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman are the crowning glory for King and Lancaster alike.

You will feel the earth move, thanks not only to Lancaster, but also to Briggs’s potent direction, full of drama, emotion and humour, to go with his snappy, snazzy costumes and Phoebe Kilvington’s hair and make-up, propelled by the fabulous playing of Stephen Hackshaw’s band, always in view at the back.

Tickets for Tuesday to Saturday’s 7.30pm evening performances and Saturday’s 2.30pm matinee are on sale at

REVIEW: Amerrycan Theatre in Our Town, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York ****

The wedding: Emily Belcher’s Emily Webb marries Frankie Bounds’s George Gibbs in a ceremony conducted by Rory Mulvihill’s Congregational Church minister, right, in Amerrycan Theatre’s Our Town. Looking on, left, are Damian M O’Connor’s Constable Bill Warren and Charlotte Hewitson’s Rebecca Gibbs

RORY Mulvihill’s avuncular Stage Manager – a narrator, ringmaster, master of ceremonies and Cassandra rolled into one – talks of the stars “doing their old, old crisscross journeys” since four billion years ago.

You could call Thornton Wilder’s Our Town a time play, not in the manner of Bradford playwright J B Priestley’s Time Plays of the 1930s and 1940s, but because of the importance of time and using it well.

As director Bryan Bounds said afterwards: “The third act is the glass of water in the face to say, ‘Wake up, this is all going to be gone before you realise it’.”

Ironically, neither Mulvihill’s measured, mellifluous Stage Manager nor Wilder’s play, with its two intervals rather than the customary one, is in a particular hurry. The watch is ticking well past 10pm as we leave, more than two and a half hours after our arrival, but rest assured, time spent in the company of Wilder and “Yorkshire’s American theatre company” is time spent well indeed, particularly after that remarkable, rug-pulling third act.

Our Town has been called “America’s greatest play”, and while your reviewer does not have the time to debate that contention here, the likes of David Mamet and Edward Albee, no less, speak of this 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner that highly.

Advance publicity had suggested Amerrycan Theatre’s modern-dressed production was a very belated York premiere for Our Town, but it has since come to light that Rowntree Players presented it in the late 1950s, the actor who played young lead George Gibbs now in his 80s.

Nevertheless, that remains a long, long hiatus since its only York production, an act of neglect frankly. Not that you would feel that way after the gentle loosener of the first act, where Mulvihill leads a guided tour of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, population, 2,642.

Everyone knows everyone and their business in this little American town with its quietly competitive churches, railway, blanket factory and all-in-one town hall, post office and jail .

Wilder is presenting a microcosm of American life, much like Dylan Thomas’s portrait of the mythical Welsh seaside village of LLareggub in his 1954 radio drama Under Milk Wood, but Thomas’s play spanned only 24 hours, whereas Wilder’s three acts span 12 years from 1906 to 1918, rather than the original 1901 to 1913, in Bounds’s account with intervals of three years from Daily Life (May 7 1906) to Act Two’s Love and Marriage (July 7 1909) and nine more to Act Three’s Death and Eternity (Autumn 1918, originally Summer 1913).

A cast of 14 populates Our Town, some from York, others from Leeds and Harrogate, one born in Tasmania, Bounds originally from Temple, Texas, and his computer engineer friend, Thomas Miller, from southern Illinois, in his first foray into acting since university days. Just as we grow to know Wilder’s characters, an interval read of the programme profiles reveals plenty too, each accompanied by a black-and-white photograph from childhood days.

Our Town is deemed a radical play, not only in breaking down theatre’s fourth wall for Mulvihill to ask various (primed) audience members questions about Grover’s Corners, and in its lack of props and rudimentary scenery, but also in its bravura use of dead people – yes, you can see dead people a la The Sixth Sense – who rise from their graves to take seats to conduct Act Three from beyond.

Here, these dead souls of the cemetery discuss life’s transience, as Craig Kirby’s suicidal drunkard, the now late choirmaster Simon Stimson, scalds the living for their ignorance and bliss in Wilder’s  bleaker, blacker version of Jaques’ monologue in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Bleaker still, they castigate the grieving George (spoiler alert) for wasting his time in visiting the graveyard.

Everything is milk and roses on the surface in Act One, even in the Sentinel newspaper run by the upright Mr Charles Webb (Andrew Isherwood), but gradually more than small-town gossip prevails. The women are not happy to be subservient; young Wally Webb (Harrison Turner-Hazel, a name for an actor if ever there were one!) must go off to war; symbolically, Kirby’s erratic Stimson tells the ladies of the Congregational Church choir (Jess Murray’s outstanding Mrs Myrtle Webb among them) that they sing too loudly.

At the play’s core is a love story, one of young lovers, neighbours George Gibbs (Frankie Bounds), the sports jock, and Emily Webb (Emily Belcher), the brightest pupil at school. The Romeo and Juliet of Wilder’s world, their courtship scenes are a delight, but the marriage ceremony shocks: a forewarning of Act Three’s darkness to come. Bounds junior and Belcher are terrific in those scenes, and Belcher is better still in the play’s stark climax.

America’s greatest play? You decide, but your first decision should be to visit Our Town and its story of everyday life and the extraordinary in the ordinary, but hurry, it will soon be leaving town.

Amerrycan Theatre in Our Town, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office:

Why has it taken 85 years for “America’s greatest play” to hit York? Step forward Amerrycan Theatre’s Our Town

Frankie Bounds’ George Gibbs in rehearsal for Amerrycan Theatre’s York premiere of Our Town

AMERRYCAN Theatre, Yorkshire’s American theatre company, are staging the York premiere of “the greatest American play” from Tuesday (11/7/2023) to Saturday.

Thornton Wilder’s still hard-hitting Pulitzer Prize winner Our Town will be presented by an American and British cast of 18 in an immersive makeover at Theatre@41, Monkgate.

“If you are ready for serious, life-affirming theatre, this play is for you,” says Texas-born producer and founding artistic director Bryan Bounds. “An enduring American treasure and one of the greatest plays of world theatre, Our Town is as radical now as at its premiere in 1938.

“Wilder’s portrait of life, love and death, set in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, a fictional New England town at the start of the 20th century, could happen just as easily in Pocklington.”

Eighty-five years after it shook the theatrical world, Our Town remains among the most performed plays in the United States and is considered to be the “greatest American play ever written” by Edward Albee, David Mamet and many other playwrights, while writer and theatre administrator Howard Sherman deems it to be “America’s first Shakespearean play”.

Wilder’s story follows the romance and marriage of Emily Webb (Emily Belcher) and George Gibbs (Frankie Bounds), and through them, he reveals the hidden mysteries behind the smallest details of everyday life.

“This play seems so simple and yet it reminds us how fragile life can be and the need to celebrate each moment,” says Our Town director Bryan Bounds

“Given the advent of our digital age and its impact on our lives, now more than ever we need theatre to give us a stark experience that reminds us about the beauty of being alive, connecting with other people,” says Bryan. “This play seems so simple and yet it reminds us how fragile life can be and the need to celebrate each moment.”

Assessing what makes Our Town such a significant American work, actor, playwright and acting practitioner Bryan says: “At its debut in 1938, the play exploded the idea of what theatre was and what it could do. It’s still performed every week around the world because it goes against what [director] Peter Brook called ‘deadly theatre’ (i.e. soothing the audience into forgetting about life).

“This play is what he termed ‘holy theatre’, which shakes the audience up and reminds us what it is to be alive and how we can live life better.”

For all its ubiquity elsewhere, why has Our Town never been performed in York, Bryan? “It’s quite a gamble. It’s a very challenging, ambitious play for a theatre company to put on because it doesn’t fit into a neat category,” he says.

“It seems like it ought to be hokey and sentimental, but Edward Albee called it ‘one of the toughest plays ever written’, because in its story of Emily and George it pulls no punches. It’s ‘theatre for the mind’ and that takes an audience a while to sniff around the edges and book their ticket.”

Bryan first read Wilder’s play in high school, like many American teenagers. “But because I hadn’t experienced much of life, I admired its Pirandello influences but put it aside. But life made me keep pulling it back and exploring, so I saw several performances and each one changed my perceptions of life a little bit more,” he says.

Emily Belcher’s Emily Webb rehearsing a scene for Amerrycan Theatre’s Our Town

“My wife Deirdre was in tears at the end of a production that we saw in London some years ago. That’s when I knew York needed to experience it.”

Bryan runs Amerrycan Theatre from Huby, near Otley, in West Yorkshire.  “I moved to Leeds in 1999 after falling in love with a Scouser while I was living in New York City (cue the violins!), and once I got over the culture shock, I saw that there were very few theatre companies producing great, niche works of American theatre – and few Yorkshire actors were getting the chance to sink their teeth into really delicious roles,” he says.

“So we put on Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story and did very well at the Edinburgh Fringe with my play My Name Is Bill: An Afternoon With An Alcoholic.

“For Our Town, the cast is mostly made up of actors from Yorkshire – they’ve loved learning the accent – plus American actors, including Thomas Miller, a local cyber security genius from Illinois, and myself.”

In the Amerrycan Theatre pipeline for 2024 are Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winner Three Tall Women and Eugene O’Neill’s “towering masterpiece” The Iceman Cometh. “For that one, we’ll be transforming Theatre@41 into a seedy New York saloon from 1912,” says Bryan.

First up, Our Town. “Be prepared to laugh and cry with every emotion in between in. The cast promises to make the trip to Grover’s Corners a moving experience that’s immersive, tough, funny, heart-wrenching and uplifting,” the director concludes.

Amerrycan Theatre in Our Town, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, July 11 to July 15, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office:

York stage stalwart Rory Mulvihill’s Stage Manager, centre, with Frankie Bounds’ George Gibbs and Emily Belcher’s Emily Gibbs

Amerrycan Theatre’s cast for Our Town

The Stage Manager: RORY MULVIHILL



Mrs Julia Gibbs: JULIET WATERS

Mrs Myrtle Webb: JESS MURRAY






Simon Stimson: CRAIG KIRBY

Mrs Louella Soames: NATALIE SMEATON

Constable Bill Warren: DAMIAN M O’CONNOR

Joe Stoddard: BRYAN BOUNDS

Creative team:

Producer & director: BRYAN BOUNDS
Stage manager: EMMA POMFRETT
Dramaturg: AMY TONES
Music director: SAM JOHNSON
Lighting designer: DUNCAN HANDS

Amerrycan Theatre: the back story

BASED in Huby, West Yorkshire, “Britain’s American theatre company” is devoted to showcasing the vitality of American drama in intimate productions.

From classics to contemporary drama, they stage American works seldom seen in Yorkshire and take productions to the Edinburgh Fringe, across Europe and the United States of America.

Amerrycan Theatre’s poster for the York premiere of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town

Our Town in 2023: Thoughts from Amerrycan Theatre dramaturg Amy Tones

“EIGHTY-FIVE years ago, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town debuted and was unanimously selected to receive the Pulitzer Prize for American Drama. Today, it continues to be one of the most produced American plays in the world.

“It has been said that there is at least one performance of Our Town on a stage every day some place in the world. How does this play continue to engage audiences from so many diverse backgrounds?

“The Stage Manager will tell you in minute detail, Our Town, Grover’s Corners, is a microcosm of life. From its opening moments, the play presents life, from birth to death, throwing together the mundane with the spectacular, in a simple examination of what it all means.

“The story unfolds on a bare stage with a few pieces of scenery and pantomimed props. When the play opened, this was a novel experience. Audience members would have been used to a play trying to mirror life, with a clear problem to be solved.

“What they got was a Stage Manager who conducts the actors through their moments and breaks the fourth wall to point out the minutia that won’t fit on the stage, continually reminding the audience that they are in a theatre, adjacent to reality, but separated. Instead of a clear conflict, they are invited to contemplate all the moments that make up life, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

“From the beginning, as Dr Gibbs returns home from delivering twins – new life – the Stage Manager talks of Gibbs’s death and legacy. Life and death, hand in hand. We’re given the space to contemplate the importance of the everyday actions of living along with the elevated moments that burn bright in our memories.

Frankie Bounds’ George Gibbs and Andrew Isherwood’s Mr Charles Webb, right, in discussion in rehearsal for Amerrycan Theatre’s Our Town

“Some have said it is the simplicity of the staging that drives the popularity of this play in a budget-conscious world. Others point out that its popularity in high school and college theatres stems from the training it offers young performers in communicating clearly despite the absence of things.

“Critics of the play assign it to the role of a ‘museum piece’, with nostalgia masking more important discussions of gender inequality, bigotry, or alcoholism that could have been addressed. While there may be some bit of validity to these arguments, they could not possibly account for its ongoing place of honour in theatrical canon.

“The meta-theatricality of the play forces us to focus not on what we see to understand, but on what we perceive. Our minds fill in what is not there based on our experiences. Watching the motions of breakfast being prepared without actual pans or food allows us to recall the sounds, smells, and tastes of our memories. Two ladders can become bedrooms in neighbouring houses on a moonlit night, distracting us from what we should be doing.

“The actors demonstrate their craft, while constantly reminding us that they are actors, and this is a play. Even the points that the critics wish had been addressed remind us this is not a museum, separated from our reality by time and place, but a place with which we can connect.

“At its heart, Our Town puts life on display from birth to death, with all of the wonderful, terrible moments in between, and invites all of us to experience them, reflect on them, and value them in our life and every life.”