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A Therapeutic Journey Makes
“A Beautiful Noise”
A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical
Directed by Michael Mayer
235 West 44 Street
Opened Dec. 4, 2022
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 16, 2023
Will Swenson as ‘Neil Diamond –Then’and The Noise. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
Writers of tribute musicals often begin the story at a high point in the performer’s life. Anthony McCarten has chosen something different for "A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical." It begins with an aging Diamond (Mark Jacoby, Neal Benari the night I saw the show) consulting his therapist (Linda Powell) at the urging of his family. It seems he’s been grouchy and difficult to live with recently, and they want him fixed. Not a lot of energy here, but director Michael Mayer has to make the best of it.
Neil is resistant, so the therapist pulls out a book of his lyrics and suggests therapy might be more successful if they use his songs as a way of exploring his inner psyche. Neil agrees reluctantly and voila, as Neil and therapist delve into his past, the musical takes off with the charismatic Will Swenson taking over as the superstar.
And so, we see Swenson as an aspiring songwriter under the tutelage of Ellie Greenwich (Bri Sudia), a fledgling performer at The Bitter End, and finally, an accomplished performer leaping into stardom. But Swenson does not sing all the songs. Jacobi/Benari sings “I Am… I Said.” ensemble member Jordan Dobson gets “Shilo.” And Diamond’s second wife, Marcia (Robyn Hurder), gets a few with Swenson as their relationship develops and at last falls apart. As for Diamond’s first marriage to high school sweetheart, Jaye (Jessie Fisher), that was doomed after his rise to fame and especially after he met the sexy Marcia.
Back to therapy: It turns out Diamond didn’t suddenly become silent and moody. He’s been depressed ever since childhood. The reason for this depression is never fully explained, even when the musical journeys back to his childhood when Neil’s parents Rose (Sudia) and Kieve (Tom Alan Robbins) argue about what to do with their son, who doesn’t behave as other children do. But that a child would rather talk to his imaginary friend in his room than go out and play with real friends seems more pathological than eccentric.
The problem is that a musical is not exactly the best medium for psychological interpretations. This makes the story seem rushed and incomplete. We might have preferred a concert.
Because it is with the music that the show shines. There’s not much set design here; the musical relies mostly on Kevin Adams’s lighting. And Steven Hoggett’s choreography is repetitive and not terribly interesting. But A Beautiful Noise features most of Diamond’s big hits: “America,” “Brooklyn Roads,” “Cherry, Cherry," “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Shilo.”
And best of all, the show ends triumphantly with a “Sweet Caroline” sing-along.
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