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Bronté Barbé brings Beautiful to the Liverpool Empire

If you feel the earth move under your feet in Liverpool next week it won’t be an earthquake – just the arrival of the seismic stage celebration of one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century.

We had Lennon and McCartney, and America had Goffin and King, the husband and wife team who turned out a string of classic hits in the early 1960s, from Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow to Pleasant Valley Sunday, via Halfway to Paradise, The Loco-motion, One Fine Day and dozens more.

Carole King was still a teenager when she started penning some of the most enduring songs in pop history. And her talents took her on to become a singer-songwriter star in her own right, with her 1971 solo album Tapestry remaining one of the most acclaimed records of all time.

With a dramatic personal as well as a prolific professional life, King is a perfect subject for a musical, and since Beautiful – the Carole King Story premiered on Broadway four years ago it’s certainly been a hit with audiences.

It’s now coming to the Liverpool Empire, with Cheshire actress Bronté Barbé in the lead role.

And the girl from Macclesfield is looking forward to her return to the theatre, where she previously played Princess Fiona in Shrek.

“I can’t wait,” she smiles. “I loved it, and I loved the little stage door pub next door (Ma Egerton’s) because they do pizzas there. It’s so nice.

“I’m staying with family and I love the city, it’s just so great. There’s so much going on. I’m also going to be bringing my dog Charlie, who is a miniature long-haired dachshund. It would be nice to try and see some of the rural Liverpool, hopefully take him to some country parks."

Bronté Barbé as Carole King. Photos by Craig Sugden

The touring production is now on the home straight, with Liverpool one of the final few venues, and Bronté admits she will be “gutted” to say goodbye to the character and the cast, who have become like family.

Playing King appears to have been a particularly fulfilling experience for the Mountview Academy-trained performer, who says she is able to identify with the New York-born songwriter.

“She is so determined,” says Barbé, who bought Tapestry as a youngster. “Particularly as a woman starting out in the time she did, working in the industry she did.

“She knew what she wanted, so worked hard and went out and got it, which makes her very inspirational. However, she’s also a very relatable character I think.”

In fact, Beautiful is one of a pair of musicals about strong female music stars which have been touring the UK this season – Cilla being the other.

“I don’t think there’s ever been enough!” says Barbé. “But it’s definitely important that they constantly keep writing parts. And now we’ve got Dusty (written by Liverpool’s Jonathan Harvey) coming out as well.

“I think it’s important to celebrate these incredible female inspirational figures throughout our history. And with the pay gap and everything at the moment, it’s really important to remind people that women are awesome!

“As a female it’s great to lead a show.”

Beautiful - the Carole King Musical. Photo by Craig Sugden

Along with the warm audience reaction (including people who are so involved they shout out), one of the most rewarding parts of the last few months for the young actress has been her family being able to see her on stage.

“They all worked so hard to be able to put me through classes and everything,” she explains. “It’s rewarding to see the fruits of their labour, because I couldn’t have done it without my family.”

King’s piano keyboard closes for a final time in Blackpool in June.

So what’s next for Barbé?

She considers: “I think I’m going to take a little break maybe. But always looking for other things. I don’t think I’ll know about stuff until late summer, or later in the year. You never know what’s going to happen really.

“I’d like to do some more television. I did an episode of Call the Midwife just before we started this tour. So hopefully I’d like something like that.”

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical is at the Liverpool Empire from May 1-5. Tickets from the website HERE

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