A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical

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Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Cititour.com Review
Prepare to hear noise – and make noise – at “A Beautiful Noise,” the often exuberant if tonally confused biomusical about the legendary singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, now settling in for what I expect to be a long run at the Broadhurst Theater.

Admittedly, most of the “noise” comes from the stage as over two dozen of Diamond’s hits are superbly performed by a cast led by the absolutely extraordinary Will Swenson, perfectly channeling Diamond’s “gravel wrapped in velvet” voice and his “Jewish Elvis” swagger, bedecked in Emilio Sosa’s sequin-studded suits. It’s a performance sure to be remembered at Tony Awards time.

Still, you’ll get your own chance to vocalize long before the encore. The production, directed by the ever-busy Michael Mayer, encourages audience participation twice during Act One, during renditions of “Song Sung Blue” and “Sweet Caroline.” (And be prepared to do it again about an hour.) I understand these singalongs are a preemptive strike, but they might have felt less bothersome to me had “A Beautiful Noise” made these songs concert numbers, instead of interrupting book scenes and breaking the fourth wall.

Indeed, presenting most of “A Beautiful Noise” as a concert would have been the most effective way of celebrating this man, who became the biggest-selling act in America largely by putting on three-hour shows in the world’s largest arenas and stadiums. (Set designer David Rockwell does an excellent job of conjuring these spaces, aided by lighting designer Kevin Adams.) In fact, very little of the show is as thrilling as the second act opener: a pure concert sequence which opens with the music of “Crunchy Granola Suite” before Swenson captivates us while performing the gospel-influenced “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

Instead, the show – written by four-time Oscar nominee and noted playwright Anthony McCarten (currently also represented on Broadway by “The Collaboration”) -- wants to be every kind of “jukebox” musical all in one, rather than settling on any one form, which proves to be an unwise choice.

The story of Diamond’s mostly undramatic life is told in flashback as the present-day Diamond (an underused if excellent Mark Jacoby) revisits the meaning of his lyrics while talking with his no-nonsense therapist (an invaluable Linda Powell), who is trying to find the cause of her patient’s lifelong struggle with loneliness.

However, the therapy set-up is often abandoned for a more straightforward and superficial recap of Diamond’s life, including being “discovered” by the great Ellie Greenwich (an engaging Bri Sudia), his conflict with record producer Bert Berns (Tom Alan Robbins) and his gangster partner Tommy O’Rourke (a hammy Michael McCormick), and his relationship with first wife Jaye Peters (an unremarkable Jessie Fisher.) Weirdly, other parts of Diamond’s life, most notably filming “The Jazz Singer” and his career-threatening spinal operation in 1979, aren’t even explicitly mentioned.

Unsurprisingly, though, more weight is given to his courtship and 25-year marriage to the alluring Marcia Murphy, played by the mesmerizing Robyn Hurder, who shines here both as an actress as a singer. (No surprise, when Marcia and Neil inevitably break up, they duet – beautifully -- on “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”) However, since Hurder is arguably the best dancer now on Broadway, choreographer Stephen Hoggett finds a way for her to strut her stuff, albeit rather incongruously in a specialty number set to “Forever in Blue Jeans.”

As for why Diamond always felt like “a solitary man,” the answer is insufficiently revealed late in Act II in a flashback to Diamond’s childhood in Brooklyn. This scene may have happened as depicted (although McCarten can’t seem to decide whether it occurred in 1953 or 1957), but the portrayal of Diamond’s Jewish-immigrant parents comes off somewhere between embarrassing and offensive. On the plus side, this “breakthrough” leads to an incredibly powerful rendition by Jacoby of “I Am … I Said” (which, at my performance, almost became yet another singalong!)

As a lifelong fan of Diamond, I wish I could tell you that “A Beautiful Noise” is “so good. so good. so good.” Sadly, it’s not, but it’s a mostly enjoyable outing thanks largely to Swenson’s impeccable characterization and the songwriter’s enduring brilliance.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 1/4/2022
Closing 6/30/2024

Theatre Info
Broadhurst Theatre
235 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036