Broadway Review: A BEAUTIFUL NOISE (Broadhurst)

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by Tony Frankel on December 6, 2022

in Theater-New York

NEIL DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

OK, we all know who Neil Diamond is. The singer/songwriter Neil Leslie Diamond born of Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn has released 39 albums, with 100 million records sold worldwide. He performed around the globe constantly wearing fringe and flashy sequins, and — of course — wrote an array of hits: “I’m a Believer” (the song made famous by The Monkees in 1966), “I Am… I Said”, “Song Sung Blue”, “Cracklin’ Rosie”, “Cherry, Cherry”, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (sung with his former high-school classmate Barbra Streisand), and of course “Sweet Caroline”, the last of which you get to sing along with at the wonky new musical A Beautiful Noise, which opened this week at The Broadhurst Theatre. After seeing this huge show, stuck somewhere between concert and musical, you’ll still love the music, but you’re not going to know much more about the superstar than you already do. And I’m not sure that was the point of Anthony McCarten‘s superficial and choppy book.

Mark Jacoby and The Noise

If you want to know what “second-act trouble” means, this is your template. The first act shows promise and is mostly enjoyable. Sitting downstage center at curtain is Neil Diamond “Now” (powerhouse Mark Jacoby, who has one of the greatest breakdowns in theater history) sitting across from his psychiatrist (an amazingly sympathetic Linda Powell). The magic that follows is truly wonderful, starting with fast blackouts during which the silent duo quick-change outfits. As Neil begins to delve into his depression, a lively and enchanting diverse chorus  — all shapes, sizes, race and character-types known as “The Noise” — appear from the back of his chair. This is not a Greek Chorus, but a morphing group, executing Steven Hoggett‘s voguing choreography (which felt inappropriate: why not pastiche dancing from the 70s?) as they help beef up songs just as concert back-up dancers would do. They even backup hardworking Robyn Hurder as wife Marcia, who performs songs as if in concert.

Robyn Hurder

With an upstage orchestra on steel-tiered scaffolding typical of rock concert musicals (sets by David Rockwell), the stereopticon journey begins with Will Swenson as Neil “Then” struggling to get into the biz of selling songs. Swenson does an amazing tribute to Diamond, rather than an impersonation, and his song styling is pure Neil.

Michael McCormick, Tom Alan Robbins, Linda Powell,
Mark Jacoby, and Will Swenson

From the Brill building to superstardom, it’s awfully tough to empathize with the magical songwriter’s personal problems: I wasn’t happy writing for other performers (then I wrote a hit song); I performed myself — and, boy, was I nervous! (then I wrote a hit song); I fell in love with Marcia so my first marriage fizzled (then I wrote a hit song); I signed with a label owned by gangsters (then I wrote a hit song); I hit the worldwide road for millions of fans, but the time away from family was destructive (then I wrote a hit song); then, further back, my guilt-inducing parents bought me a guitar (on which I wrote hit songs).

Will Swenson and The Noise

The hit songs and sold-out concerts keep a-comin’. While it may be interesting in a Wikipedia way to see how his personal, well, drama fits into his lyrics, his problems — if you take a step back — are the same issues we all deal with: isolation, loneliness, never enough. Yet these universal tropes don’t help us to sympathize with the man. So, he always felt lonely because why? Because he had neurotic Jewish parents? The takeaway is very vague.

Tom Alan Robbins, Mark Jacoby, Bri Sudia

And when the houselights come up for us to echo “so good” during “Sweet Caroline”, I slunk in my chair embarrassed. Two older blonde women in the front row jumped up waving their hands while cell-phones swayed in flashlit glory. When Swenson leaned down to take one of their hands, I thought “Well, HE knows what this show is all about.” In the not very coherent second act, it’s clear this is a concert built around a playlet — ya know, a jukebox musical, one in which good times never seemed so blah.

The Noise

Thus, older folk will have pangs of nostalgia, and most likely will sweep the broken book to the sides of their mind. This crowd will keep the show running for a while, but Beautiful Noise ain’t no Beautiful, the delightful Carole King musical, which had a better sense of the period and the development of songs therein — not to mention better scenes. Other patrons who don’t know much about Diamond and his songs will be disengaged. After the opening’s promise dissipates, A Beautiful Noise won’t bring you flowers anymore.

Will Swenson and The Noise

It feels as if the show has been corrupted by the creators’ adulation in working with Diamond’s permission. Neil isn’t an exciting person and he’s always unfulfilled. Can you imagine producers asking, “C’mon, Neil…do you have something else? A murder? Kleptomania? That’s popular in Hollywood, right? No? Nothing, huh?” Using Diamond’s output, this should have been a jukebox musical about someone else.

Will Swenson and The Noise

photos by Julieta Cervantes

A Beautiful Noise
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W 44th St
opened Sunday December 4, 2022
for tickets, visit A Beautiful Noise

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