By: Isa Goldberg
February 6, 2023: Getting to be a Neil Diamond fan happens, when you’re in need of a soul mate. An inspiring singer, he’s the one to take an elevator ride with, because he gives a great lift.
While “The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise” may not be a ladder to heaven, it still holds the revivalist fervor for which the performer is known.
Playing the songwriter/singer, Will Swenson brings a mastery of Diamond’s voice, and his charismatic relationship with the audience. Unlike the singer, who was panned for his acting in the remake of “The Jazz Singer”, Swenson has a commanding stage presence. It’s a great role for him, and he fulfills it wonderfully.
Being a fan makes this new jukebox musical a fun opportunity to hear Neil live again. Robust orchestrations by Bob Gaudio, and Sonny Paladino bring to life the original recorded music, much the way it sounded then. There is a swagger to those famous rhythms that Swenson largely embraces.
“I’m A Believer”, the song Diamond wrote for The Monkees, won’t be lost on baby boomer audiences, or many younger ones for that matter. In a more mature voice, “Kentucky Woman”, following in Act I takes a jazzier reflection on romantic love.
As in other jukebox musicals, where the performer’s personal life is revealed in the context of his career, Diamond’s conflict centers on life versus celebrity. Given his three divorces, it seems celebrity won out. His life being more “Love on The Rocks”, than “Sweet Caroline”.
Here the story, book by Anthony McCarten, is told by an aging Neil Diamond (Mark Jacoby), to his shrink (Linda Powell). As a frame it’s painfully obvious, and it gives the musical a sticky sentimental background. To make matters worse, confessions from the couch by a celebrity have a predictable theme – the price of stardom.
No stranger to celebrity tales, McCarten also penned “The Collaboration” about Andy Warhol’s relationship with Jean-Michel Basquiat, which played on Broadway earlier this season. Unfortunately, however, the author’s art of finesse is missing from this jukebox musical.
As we learn about the real Neil Diamond in “A Beautiful Noise”, being a star was his obsession, the preoccupation of a workaholic. Sadly, it’s not a terribly compelling motive, nor a surprising one. But it is the reflection of a deeply insecure personality.
As told here, none of the events in Diamond’s life stand out like Folsom Prison does, in the life of Johnny Cash. But in his frantic need to please, and achieve Neil Dimond became one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
As the vessel for his reflections, the therapist draws out his frustration for having, in his own opinion, sold out. His dream was to write poetry, and in the songs which he’s most proud of the lyrics feel naturally poetic.
Along with Swenson, Robyn Hurder stands out beautifully as Neil’s second wife, Marcia. Hurder is a triple threat – singer, actor, dancer. Playing his producer, as well as his wife Rose, Bri Sudia makes a strong, and confident Broadway debut.
Fortunately, Director Michael Mayer gives the focus to the music, which is so memorable. Steven Hoggett’s choreography dramatically picks up the second act.
Of course, Neil Diamond is not the rebellious Jackie Rabinowitz, the character he portrayed in the movie, “The Jazz Singer”. Nor is he Al Jolson, who created the role in the original 1927 film.
But he is a Jewish person, who grew up in family of immigrants, in Brooklyn. More about that story might have better enriched our understanding of the star. It certainly comes out in his music.]
The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise **1/2
225 W. 44th Street, NYC
Photography: Julieta Cervantes