Carole King musical debuts in London with surprise visit - from King

LONDON - American singer-songwriter Carole King showed up unannounced to lead a London theatre audience in her hit "You've Got a Friend" on Tuesday at the West End opening of "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical" based on her life and career.

With the cast onstage for curtain calls, and her lifelong friends but onetime rival songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil at her side, King, 73, choking with emotion, paid tribute to her late husband and former songwriting partner Gerry Goffin.

She and Goffin, whom she divorced in 1968, turned out a string of hits including "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?", "Up on the Roof" and "One Fine Day" that shaped the sound of pop music in the 1960s and '70s.

"Gerry Goffin passed away on June 19 of last year. He did get to see the opening night in New York and he was really happy, he really loved the show," King said, referring to the Broadway musical on which the London show is based.

She added that when Goffin had been asked about his portrayal as a talented man who cheats on his wife, his response had been, "It's not really simple."

She then led the audience in one of her best known songs, which was a big hit for James Taylor and others, and includes the lyrics: "You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am/ I'll come running to see you again..."

The show essentially is the same as the version running on Broadway, which opened to mixed reviews last year, but with a different cast and some changes to the staging made to fit the Aldwych Theatre, a member of the production team said.

The book tells the story of Carol Klein, played by Katie Brayben, who is a young Jewish girl from Brooklyn who changes her name to Carole King to help her make it as a songwriter, and manages at the age of 16 to sell a song to pop impresario and hitmaker Don Kirshner (Gary Trainor).

King meets her future husband Goffin (Alan Morrissey) who is also trying to sell songs to Kirshner at his offices on lower Broadway where Weil (Lorna Want) and the hypochondriac Mann (Ian McIntosh) also become a team.

The storyline has been criticised for plowing through the lives of four of the pop geniuses of the late 20th century in an uninventive chronological fashion.

But the upside is that the energetic young cast gets to impersonate groups like the Drifters, the Shirelles and others recreating the sounds that ruled the airwaves of America for two decades - and many of which have become standards for the ages.