Broadway’s A Beautiful Noise Tries Hard, Without a Lot of Sing Song Blues to Run With

Will Swenson and cast in A Beautiful Noise at the Broadhurst Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

A Broadway Review: A Beautiful Noise – The Neil Diamond Musical

By Ross

Neil Diamond’s voice is described as “velvet wrapped in gravel” by the engaging Ellie Greenwich, deliciously embodied by Bri Sudia (Goodman’s Wonderful Town) who is the woman credited with discovering the Diamond, and as projected forward by Will Swenson (CSC’s Assassins), as that sequined star, the jukebox formula for connectivity is strong, but the actualization leaves a lot to be desired. A Beautiful Noise – The Neil Diamond Musical that I’m not sure was ever really needed, has a set-up that feels as heavy and bulky as those two therapy chairs that they keep wheeling around the stage. An older “I don’t like talking about myself‘ Neil Diamond, well portrayed by Mark Jacoby (Broadway’s Ragtime) sits bravely down center stage, fighting hard against the therapeutic investigation led by the engaging no-name therapist, played compassionately by Linda Powell (Broadway’s On Golden Pond). Powell’s role is a thankless one, destined to sit by his side, or across from him, prodding this man to tell her, and us, about his life, music, and lyrics, without ever really having very much to work with. The therapeutic structure is the key to unlocking the box, it seems, as chandeliers drop down from the heavens and the therapy chairs float to the sidelines so we can all engage in the resurrection of the rock star. But is there enough weight to hold it together and drive this memory piece forward? I think not.

Swenson does his grand damnedest, even when weighed down with an unfortunate wig by Luc Verschueren (Broadway’s Almost Famous). Standing upright with a scowl on his face, sounding strong and fluid, just like Diamond, he works hard to give the fans what they want. And the crowd inside Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre welcomes that sound, clapping and waving their arms in the air as instructed. It’s almost infectious, but the musical, written by Anthony McCarten, who is also responsible for the real-life star-persona collection on display in MTC’s The Collaboration, never rises up in a compelling way. It tries its best to add flavor and conflict to the star’s mystic, following the man who became one of the best-selling musicians of all time, but there isn’t that much to hold on to. It’s a surprise to some of us, (well, to me) that so many care about Diamond’s career. Still, that therapist sure seems to, as she uses an oddball formula of asking about the meanings of songs and their lyrics in the hope of breaking into the psyche of Diamond. And the story is unleashed upon us, like a feather sledgehammer pounding out a beat that doesn’t feel all that urgent.

It’s pleasant enough, and “not awful” as I said when the production finally came to end, even though I forever wanted the therapy angle to roll off into the background, the unwrapping of his career and his life continued onward, like flipping the pages of that heavy book of collected lyrics trying to find purpose and meaning in this tale and some drama in his life. The observing starts to feel distracting, but as Swenson’s Diamond works his way to the centerstage spotlight, we are given the gift of hearing his music presented well and strong, thanks to the music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Sonny Paladino (Broadway’s Gettin’ the Band Back Together). Memories and incidents float in and out on that clunky angular stage designed by David Rockwell (Broadway’s Take Me Out), with ill-fitting glamour costumes by Emilio Sosa (Broadway’s 1776), flashy lighting by Kevin Adams (Broadway’s The Cher Show), and an awkward muffled sound design by Jessica Paz (Broadway’s Hadestown), as the Bitter End beginnings crawl out of the psychic darkness harmoniously towards the superstar spotlight.

First, we have his wife, played dutifully by Jessie Fisher (Broadway’s Harry Potter…), standing strong as his colorless support system, but that soon transitions to the unimaginably sexy Robyn Hurder (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge) as second wife Marcia Murphey. First wife Jaye never stood a chance against Hurder’s Marcia, but the odd thing about A Beautiful Noise is that the show fails Hurder, when it should have embraced the star dancer and performer standing in front of them. She’s forever good in those blue jeans, but the uninspiring choreography given by Steven Hoggett (West End/NT’s Ocean at the End…), rarely gives her more to do than strut her sexy self around the stage to the beat and give a few high kicks, and that, my friend, is disappointing and depressing. There’s no surprise that most of Hoggett’s credits are not so dance-centric, with credited shows running from Broadway’s Angels in America, Harry Potter…, to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, but it is depressing that this is what Hurder is gifted to do with that body of her’s. What a waste.

Robyn Hurder and cast in A Beautiful Noise at the Broadhurst Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

But depression is the formulaic cornerstone of A Beautiful Noise, and one that supposedly bonds Marcia and Neil together. It’s also the main inner conflict at the heart of this musical. Swenson delicately does manage to bring it to life, as he communicates the struggle, body and soul, but he rarely needs all the psychotherapeutic asides being delivered by the older Diamond and his therapist. The whole team keeps forcing the formula back to that guy, away from the two wolves fighting, but even with the blindingly sparkly white and silver Diamond taking over the stage midway through, the effort isn’t as effective as they had hoped and believed.

Directed by the usually more thoughtful and inventive Michael Mayer (Broadway’s Hedwig; Funny Girl), A Beautiful Noise tries its best to make a grand jewel out of Diamond’s life, one that is filled to the brim with songs that his fans love big-time, but whose life, as it turns out, isn’t really the most interesting part of the man. There is not a lot of fascinating insight in the unpacking of lyrics or the man, even when the details of his rise have some interesting conflict packed inside, like his early record deal with Bert Berns, played by Tom Alan Robbins (Broadway’s Head Over Heels) and the mafia kingpin backer, played by Michael McCormick (Broadway’s Wicked). Yet, the ripping of that threat happens too quickly and easily to have a great impact, and the scene itself is overblown and poorly written. It’s a paint-by-number approach, much like the ending of his two marriages. Some good songs are sung, even when sappy and misplaced, but as a driver, the marriages are treated casually and stereotypically, without much depth or respect.

Writer’s block becomes another mediocre key moment in a string of light key moments, and although that stint in the motel room created one of his biggest hits, the hurdle presented is easily jumped over, and the singer/songwriter keeps running quickly toward the financial win and the forever spotlight. Oddly, the most authentic musical moment is a song that isn’t overdone or processed. It is performed by one of the wasted members of the ensemble – who I must add are never really given a reason for being beyond some pretty bland movement-choreography – who delivers forth an acoustic version of “Shilo” that will make you lean in and pay attention. It felt real, caring, and connected, thanks to the fine work of Deandre Sevon (Encores’ Runaways) and his solid performance of the song. That moment might tell you everything that is wrong with the rest of the show. It’s an unintentional spotlight, that once seen and felt, can’t be undone.

As a whole, A Beautiful Noise fails to grab hold. It tries too hard to give meaning to its bare and lackluster existence. The fans that throw their hands up in the air obviously love the show, greeting it with happy enthusiasm and a sing-along sensibility. But for this theatre junkie, who likes a Neil Diamond song as much as anyone generally does – casually without much excitement – the show is not so memorable. But I could have lived without the attempt to give weight and meaning to this bland story and all that psycho-babble laid on for emphasis. Roll those big chairs away, and let’s just get on with it, if that’s the straight-shooting story you want to tell. The therapy angle isn’t strong enough to hold this together. And if that’s the strongest bond you can find, maybe you should rethink the whole focus of the show. It’s the songs they have all come running for, so just trust in “Sweet Caroline” and that white sequined suit. And let the therapy “Song Sung Blue” be gone.

Will Swenson as young Neil Diamond, Mark Jacoby as older Neil Diamond, and Linda Powell as the Doctor
Will Swenson, Mark Jacoby, and Linda Powell in A Beautiful Noise at the Broadhurst Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

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