'A Beautiful Noise' review — Neil Diamond musical celebrates the solitary man and his career
The Neil Diamond catalog arrives on Broadway with guitars strumming, tresses flowing, and sequins blazing in A Beautiful Noise, a jukebox biomusical celebrating the renowned 81-year-old singer/songwriter.
Despite being a lukewarm look at the Brooklyn-born superstar, the show headlined by Will Swenson will nonetheless appeal to Diamond’s ardent fans. And he’s amassed lots of them.
With 39 albums to Diamond’s credit (an impressive statistic mentioned more than once) and a career spanning six-plus decades, there’s much to sing and talk about. This production, directed by Michael Mayer (Funny Girl), ends up light in terms of insights and provocative juice.
Anthony McCarten's script relies on a framing device that begins on a downer note and returns there regularly. The retired and ailing elderly Diamond (Mark Jacoby) is in a therapy session at the request of his third wife.
The doctor (Linda Powell) suggests analyzing Diamond’s compositions to “see what they tell us about you” in hopes of uncovering the cause of “clouds” of his lifelong depression.
At this point, eager ensemble members dressed in costume designer Emilio Sosa’s vintage paisley and stretchy plaids dance in as if from Diamond’s mind. They perform a collage of Diamond hits – “Song Song Blue,” “America,” “Shiloh,” “Kentucky Woman,” and “A Beautiful Noise” among them.
Swenson soon swaggers in, in pop-rock regalia, as the younger Neil Diamond. In predictable fashion, the story moves back in time and retraces Diamond’s humble beginnings as a struggling songwriter from a Jewish family with a wife and a baby of his own.
A breakthrough meeting at the legendary Brill Building with songwriter/producer Ellie Greenwich (Bri Sudia) changes his life. She recognizes Diamond’s talents as a performer and gets him a shot at the music venue The Bitter End. As he sings “Solitary Man,” the initially unimpressed crowd becomes so captivated they move in unison in their seats. Choreographer Steven Hoggett used a similar stirring moment in Once.
As Diamond’s career starts to shine, plot twists common in celebrity bios crop up. His success builds, but his marriage to high school sweetheart Jaye Posner (Jessie Fisher) crumbles to the tune of “Love on the Rocks.” Unfaithful Diamond was in love with Marcia Murphey (Robyn Hurder), a woman from the Bitter End. This two-timing episode gets underscored by… wait for it… “Cherry, Cherry.”
He then makes a bad decision to sign with what he calls a mob-run record label, but he saves his neck by writing “Sweet Caroline.” He rocks out as a concert king, surrounded by musicians on a Hollywood Squares-style grid by scenic designer David Rockwell.
As Diamond’s nonstop career soars, his marriage and luxurious life in Malibu with Marcia sours. “Seems like she wanted more time with you, not more things,” says the doc to the older Diamond. Cue Marcia, who belts “Forever in Blue Jeans,” accompanied by a ridiculously bloated dance number. Diamond’s second divorce comes, fittingly, following a duet of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
As the aged Diamond, Jacoby stands out in his passionate 11 o’clock solo, “I Am … I Said.” Hardworking Swenson pours everything he’s got into his star turn. Most notably, he deepens his voice with a veritable truckload of gravel to clone Diamond’s signature growl.
In an unusual twist, the lights come up a couple times in the Broadhurst Theatre as an invitation to sing along. Plenty of theatregoers at my performance didn’t have to be asked twice or need another sip of “Red, Red Wine” to noisily join in.
Photo credit: Robyn Hurder, Will Swenson, and Michael McGrath in A Beautiful Noise. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)
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