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The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise At The Broadhurst Theatre, Sunday, December 18th, 2022, Reviewed

During a long and impressive career Neil Diamond shifted from Brill Building wannabe, to singer songwriter, to sex symbol superstar, to MOR star, then a song in “Pulp Fiction” made him fan icon and arena superstar, to serious artist contender and current pop avatar of the 60s, and finally the last crescendo ill with Parkinson’s Disease, unable to tour, he worked on a jukebox memoir to, how you say, mixed reviews.

But not from me.

At the Broadhurst last Sunday the New York critics and I went our separate ways where the reviews were time bombs of despair, negating A Beautiful Noise as hits plus psychobabble and I thought it was at the least a different take on jukebox musical; Neil Diamond is parenthetically under the analysis craft and seconds as a story of a certain Jewish diaspora from Europe to Brooklyn: it all seems to be taking place in a world that had bypassed the holocaust that Tom Stoppard is detailing right now on Broadway with “Leopoldstadt”. The concept for “A Beautiful Noise” is to reflect Neil Diamond the superstar back down the Brooklyn Roads that changed a painfully shy daydreamer locked in his bedroom and escaping into his imagination. That metamorphize if not indeed transformation has a touch of the mythic,, a finishing end to the second world war and the attempted final solution of the Jewish people; where his parents were immigrants from Poland and Russia, Diamond was the next generation Jewish diaspora as a new world. Diamond hid in his room at home as quiet as his parents were bystanding away from politics and faith to the quiet joy of living a life not harassed by forces beyond their control: Neil was an American who was not yet at ease with his potential (maybe he never was) as a steady build from the Brill Building where he was a pen for hire and wrote some masterpieces, not just “I’m A Believer” but “The Boat That I Row” and “A Little Bit Me (A Little Bit You)” and more. Signed to the mafia affiliated Bang Records by Bert Berns , Diamond started banging out hits but wanted to expand into true singer songwriter greatness and was beyond stymied when Bang wouldn’t release “Shiloh” as a single and wanted out; locked in a hotel room in Memphis, with Berts warning that either he wrote a hit and got out of his contract or became the victim of a gangster hit might paralyse anyone, instead Diamond wrote “Sweet Caroline” and got out of his contract.

This early Diamond was more like the painfully shy and introverted kid Donald Fagin met in the Brill Building but “A Beautiful Noise” opens with an embittered eighty year old Diamond during a therapy session his third wife insisted he go to. Diamond’s Parkinson Disease had stopped him from touring and performing live was the only that removed the black cloud if depression that threatened to overtake him. He had to find another way to live. Older Diamond is performed by Broadway veteran Mark Jacoby, a thankless tasks that finds him and his therapist (Linda Powell) sitting to the side of the stage observing his memories for large chunks of time. However, Older Diamond gets a helluva sendoff in the shows true highlight.

In the flashbacks, Will Swenson performs a terrific Diamond, vocally he has that baritone down and the man who dreams of being a king never falters: It is a fictional Diamond -a man who has a reputation as an egotistical monster and all the “bigger than Elvis” stuff everybody sproats (as well as his record sales -admittedly impressive). The flashbacks take him through his first marriage to his High School Sweetheart, his earliest live performance as a brutally shy young man.. till “Kentucky Woman” hit and a string of songs lead Neil to the Greek Theatre in L.A. and overnight he was the Diamond we now know.

In Act Two we see the long, curly haired tight pants, sequined shirt Diamond during the 1972 twenty night residency back at the Greek (“the Jewish Elvis”), and we see how he can’t get himself off the road; he returns home between tours and after 25 years of married life to Marcia Murphey he won’t settle down, as Marcia Robyn Hurder has a show highlight with the Broadway dancer killing “Forever In Blue Jeans”.

It builds to “I Am… I Said”, a moving duet between the younger and elder Diamond trying to breakthrough his deeply seated insecurities and ethnic otherness (“Brooklyn Roads” isn’t happy nostalgia:

“Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, “He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it”
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else
I built me a castle
With dragons and kings
And I’d ride off with them
As I stood by my window
And looked out on those
Brooklyn Roads”) and perhaps it explains why he has such a terrible reputation, firing roadies because they dared to look at him and gave Bob Dylan a good laugh (coming off stage after his “The Last Waltz” performance he told Bob to try and beat that, “Should I go on stage and fall asleep?” Dylan zapped back).

Will Swenson is a fine Diamond and he holds his end of the bargain with a skillset that lets him move effortlessly into Diamond superstar, the dancing is fine and jittery, and the musicianship just excellent if not quite big enough, and while they should have done a medley and not just “Sweet Caroline” at the end, it is good enough. And to a lesser or greater degree it may well be true. The corrupting power of power is second to the corrupting power of fame, and the dream of America is defined by a teenage Jewish boy.

Grade: B

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