A BEAUTIFUL NOISE - All About Neil
“A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical” is the kind of jukebox musical jukebox musicals would want to be: a bio-musical (Diamond being one of the biggest selling recording artists in history); a sing-along musical (the audience response to “Sweet Caroline” is cultish); and, a songbook musical. It's reliable showbiz melodrama too. But, instead of getting cliche rags-to-riches, we get a variant, Flatbush-to-fame, and all the neurosis of a creative performer that that personal journey can bear.
Anthony McCarten’s book is tour-de-force expediency - how to use the principal's songs to identity a life struggle. The doctor/therapist (Linda Powell) treating Neil Diamond - Now (Mark Jacoby), an irascible curmudgeon unhappy in his twilight years (Diamond is afflicted with Parkinson’s) hits a therapeutic wall so she picks up a songbook - literally - of Diamond’s greatest hits to trigger emotions. Musical book writer problem solved: book becomes fill-in-a-blank life with a song.
It’s unclear what really is the source of Diamond’s angst - insecurity, narcissism, egoism are characteristics that often come with a showbiz personality - but Diamond's Brooklyn childhood is apparently a lonely one (fill in “Solitary Man”). Early songwriting success (“I’m a Believer'', the 1960s television Monkees’ hit, for example), supports his kids and young wife Jaye Poysner (Jessie Fisher), but it’s not until blonde bombshell Marcia Murphy (Robyn Hurder) unlocks his real inner talent that his career as solo performer takes off. The early marriage to Poysner goes South (fill in “Love in the Rocks”). Later when Diamond’s marriage to Marcia dies after 25 years, cue “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”.
And so the songbook - nearly 30 Diamond songs, nearly all affixed in the pop hits firmament - gets revealed for 2 ½ hrs. Choreography by Steven Hodgett seems a little odd in Act I as the ensemble performs more like a Greek chorus, recalling some of stage movement Hodgett perfected for the likes of “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. Ultimately, the dance reveals a no-holds-barred affinity for Las Vegas and concert tour choreography that defines Act II. This is where director Michael Mayer’s forte lies, too. Deft at a range of musicals (from ”Thoroughly Modern Millie” to “Spring Awakening’ to “Hedwig and Angry Inch”), Mayer uses every crowd-pleasing trick in the book to keep Act II in constant high-drive, covering decades of Diamond’s watershed one-man Broadway show (the first of its kind) to his years of record-breaking international arena concerts. Let’s face it, Mayer is staging some powerfully infectious songwriting; try NOT tapping your foot to “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” or “Thank the Lord for the Nighttime” , especially when given full-spectacle Broadway musical treatment.
Driving the show are three noteworthy performances. As Neil Diamond Now, Will Swenson’s vocal interpretation of Diamond is like “gravel wrapped in velvet”, as described by Diamond’s life-long agent. There’s a certain diffident arrogance about Swenson anyway; here he uses it to disguise insecurities with bravado perfectly. As Diamond’s second wife, Robyn Hurder nails a couple of solo numbers, in one of which her dance solo recalls the choreography Michel Bennett and Bob Avian created for Donna McKechnie in the early days.
Mark Jacoby’s star moment comes in duet with Swenson, “I Am… I Said”, a powerful proclamation of self identity. McCarten finally wedges in the relevance of Diamond's parents being Jewish Polish and Russian emigres; cue “America”, which over the decades has evolved as a patriotic anthem, and now here as pro-immigration statement. Director Mayer concludes with the penultimate singalong “Sweet Caroline”, punctuated by a rapturous audience refrain of “So Good, So Good, So Good” Good? Good is a matter of opinion. What is fact is that “A Beautiful Noise “, like Neil Diamond’s career, is a damn effective showmanship.