By Tulis McCall
Biographies onstage are a dodgy business. First of all there is no suspense because we know how it turned out. Second of all, with no suspense there has got to be a story created that will hold what little attention we are paying. “A Beautiful Noise” does that – sort of.
The hook is that the present Neil Diamond (Mark Jacoby in an unnecessary and ill-fitting wig) is in a therapy session with a character known only as Doctor (a charming Linda Powell) who, it so happens, only knows one of Diamond’s songs – “I Am…I Said.” She does, however, have a book – The Complete Lyrics of Neil Diamond – and armed with that she proceeds to waltz into Diamond’s past.
After that it is pretty much standard fare – as soon as we enter the past, a chorus with stunning chops, and made up of all shapes and sizes may I say, appears from out of nowhere and gives a montage of Diamond’s music. This is soon followed by the appearance of the young sparkling Neil Diamond (Will Swenson) who shows up sporting a black ensemble and a pompadour large enough to be seen from the rafters.
Swenson is stunning in his vocal presentation. His facial expressions are a mystery, however, but perhaps this is how he maneuvers his voice. The result is that he does sound A LOT like Diamond, and it is enough to make us travel back to when we first heard that voice (and the 39 albums that followed). His producer Ellie Greenwich (Bri Sudia) described its sound thusly: “Gravel wrapped in velvet, kind of thing. Like you just woke up and tripped over an ashtray.” And not for nothin’ but Swenson is a helluva guitar player. Who knew? (He plays 10 different guitars over the course of the show.)
It is made clear that Diamond never believed that anyone would listen to him, and when they did, the joy of performance faded when he left the stage. Every milestone is achieved with the help of someone offering him a leg up. Except for that motel room in Nashville where he faced the man in the mirror and ended up with a hit inspired by a magazine cover that would change his life for ever – “Sweet Caroline.”
We watch as he struggles with writing and his relationships. Two failed marriages are ended with songs The breakup of his first marriage to Jaye Posner (Jessie Fisher) is belted out with “Love On The Rocks”. The end of his second marriage to Marcia Murphy (Robyn Hurder) is presented as a sweet and very sad lament – “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
Seems as though most of Diamond’s songs are biographical and universal at the same time. Hearing them again makes us remember that theses songs are woven into the fabric of our lives – beginning with “I’m A Believer” sung by the Monkeys… These songs have staying power and the proof is in the pudding. Frankly I think it’s because he has a knack with the chorus – you know that part of the song that everyone knows. (Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer; Sweet Caroline, good times never seems so good; Song Sung Blue, everybody knows one…) which is good because some of those verse lyrics are positively sophomoric. And the choreography does little to help perk things up, in spite of the dancers’ mighty efforts.
Good thing that the writers choose plenty of chorus es for the singing, even letting the actors break the fourth wall and invite us to join in. And when the old Neil stands up and demands to be counted in the world of now and this minute, there is not a dry eye in the house.
If you are looking for life changing theatre you can look elsewhere. If you are looking for a show that will lift you up with songs you have known for decades, this could be a treat. And in case you want Diamond’s latest Christmas Album it can be found here.
A Beautiful Noise – Book By Anthony McCarten, direction by Michael Mayer, and choreography Steven Hoggett
WITH Jessie Fisher, Robyn Hurder, Mark Jacoby, Michael McCormick, Linda Powell, Tom Allen Robbins, Bri Sudia and Will Swenson
The design team for A Beautiful Noise will feature David Rockwell (scenic design), Emilio Sosa (costume design), (lighting design), Jessica Paz (sound design), and Luc Verschueren (hair and wig design).
A Beautiful Noise – Tickets HERE