It’s a long, but pleasant, slog to the satisfying emotional payoff at the end of the new musical A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Along the way the audience is treated to many musical numbers, expertly staged by choreographer Steven Hoggett and director Michael Mayer who vivify Diamond’s sometimes dark songs.
As Diamond becomes more of a cult figure, the choreography and costuming (by Emilio Sosa) get more and more extravagantly frenetic and gaudy. Along the way his hairdo goes from sixties pompadour to shaggy and back to short again (hair and wig design by Luc Verschueren) all brilliant lit by Kevin Adams.
As the show opens the Neil – Now (portrayed with dignity and humor by theater veteran Mark Jacoby) is having a session with a therapist, Linda Powell (a calm center in the feverish staging). This provides the framing device from which the scenario, written by Anthony McCarten (also author of current The Collaboration), unfolds.
Nagged into psychotherapy by his beloved third wife, Katy, he reluctantly opens up about his love/hate relationship with his artistry and fame as the Doctor makes him peruse a large book of his lyrics, hoping to find direct links to his darker self.
As the older Neil reacquaints himself with his lyrics, the younger Neil – Then (Will Swenson) materializes as the depressed, self-effacing songwriter who, after singing “I’m a Believer,” is mentored into stardom by the great Ellie Greenwich (“Be My Baby,” “Chapel of Love,” “Leader of the Pack,” etc.). As portrayed by Bri Sudia, Greenwich is a loving, though sardonic, dynamo of inspiration and advice who guides Diamond through his ups and downs.
He is cajoled into overcoming his stage fright, making an impression at The Bitter End, the fabled, star-launching Greenwich Village coffee house, owned by an at-first-reluctant Paul Colby (Michael McCormick, charmingly vulgar in this role and also as the gangster Tommy O’Rourke, the head of Bang Records). There he meets the charming, sexy Marcia Murphey (Robyn Hurder, sensual with a big personality and voice)—cue “Song Sung Blue.”
Murphey, also a great influence on Diamond’s career, becomes wife number two after Jaye Posner (Jessie Fisher whose underwritten role drags her down despite her best efforts). Their marriage went from “Cherry, Cherry” to “Love on the Rocks” as Diamond transfers his love to Murphey.
He signs with a record label, Bang, that pretty much bound him body and soul to their selfish, venal ends. This virtual professional enslavement actually leads to Diamond’s most famous song, “Sweet Caroline” which ends the first act in an enthusiastic audience sing-along, not to mention a great deal of ad hoc arm waving a chanting of lyrics.
Ironically, Diamond’s second marriage is done in by the tremendous success his second wife supported which took him away from his family for months at a time signified by his singing “Soolaimon” to the roars of a stadium crowd. Of course, they break up to “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
When the older Diamond reaches an existential breaking point, he finally stands up, stage center and takes command of his memories, experiences and his life with an intensely concentrated rendition of “I Am…I Said.” As sung by Mark Jacoby, it is the most poignant moment of the show, particularly when he confronts his younger self face-to-face.
Will Swenson, the charismatic star of A Beautiful Noise, is hampered by the full-steam-ahead pacing of the show, leaving little time for introspection. He is a powerhouse, molding his voice to sound like the actual Neil Diamond as best he can, often missing the mark. But that’s okay because the majority of the audience came to feast on the songbook of a favorite performer and they are rewarded handily.
Cleverly, the ensemble is called The Beautiful Noise, a motley crew of ten that work their little tushies off singing and dancing and constantly changing costumes. Several of them actually perform solos, most particularly Deandre Sevon whose “Shilo” was quietly wonderful.
A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical (open run)
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.abeautifulnoisethemusical.com
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission