A Boomer bonanza, The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise* clearly illustrates the point that writing and singing dozens of hit songs does not necessarily make your life interesting.
*Yes, that’s the full title
A Beautiful Noise scores with its hit song catalogue and winning lead performance from charismatic star Will Swenson but flounders in its lamentably dull subject matter. A note in the Playbill from Neil Diamond himself references Broadway megahit Jersey Boys, but Jersey Boys this is not.
Book writer Anthony McCarten (screenwriter of Bohemian Rhapsody) frames the action around present day Neil Diamond sitting in therapy and discussing his lyrics. Every time the show gathers some steam and momentum from the fabulous energy of the ensemble (cutely credited as The Beautiful Noise), the pace nosedives again when we return to the tediously dry therapy session.
Director Michael Mayer can usually be relied upon for an edgy, modern outlook but appears to have settled for straightforward simplicity this time around. There just is not a hook or set of beats upon which to hang any tension or drive.
Looking at the bright side, the audience bathes cheerfully in the warm glow of nostalgia, smiling at the fashions across the decades and happily singing along to “Song Sung Blue” and “Sweet Caroline.” Swenson is superb as Diamond, oozing ready charm and projecting genuine warmth in his husky, appealing vocals.
Scenic design, by David Rockwell, is simple to the point where it may have actually been a budget issue. Simple abstract frames of taut wires move back and forth, with a multi-level rear set of platforms adding a touch of pizazz in act two.
Music supervisor Sonny Paladino has crafted terrific arrangements, and the 13-piece band sound fantastic. Blended harmonies from The Beautiful Noise reflect the devoted work of the very talented ensemble. The ensemble members also expend serious energy performing Steven Hoggett’s choreography, which is diverting, if not particularly characterful or memorable.
As the older Diamond, Mark Jacoby brings quiet authority, and musters a moving tear or two towards the end of the story.
Robyn Hurder somewhat overplays the role of Diamond’s second wife, Marcia. The pair endures musical theatre’s longest break up, which is, completely unsurprisingly, caused by Diamond always being out on tour. At least the pair’s final duet is a lovely one – “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
Fans of Diamond’s music will enjoy the chance to hear all the hits again. For everyone else, The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise is perhaps a show to skip.
Photos: Julieta Cervantes