Arts » News

A first look at A Beautiful Noise

by Jules Becker
Wednesday Jul 13, 2022

Will Swenson and the cast of A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.
Will Swenson and the cast of A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.  

A Beautiful Noise, pre-Broadway tryout at Emerson Colonial Theatre, Boston, through August 7.888-616-0272 or Broadway run at Broadhurst Theatre begins November 2 in preview with opening December 4.

Imagine Neil Diamond-Now (the current Neil Diamond, as compared to the 'Neil Diamond-Then) sharing armchairs and reflections with a therapist simply called Doctor. This is the striking frame structure of author Anthony McCarten's book for "A Beautiful Noise," a high energy pre-Broadway tryout at the Emerson Colonial Theatre. Diamond fans will not be disappointed as gifted Will Swenson ("Hair," "Waitress" among others) portraying Neil Diamond-Then captures the vocal distinctiveness and performance intensity of the deep-voiced singer-songwriter. Notwithstanding Michael Mayer's sharp direction of a first-rate cast, "A Beautiful Noise" is currently a very entertaining if not fully satisfying musical.

Admittedly, "A Beautiful Noise"—which takes its title from a Diamond 1976 album—does not shortchange theatergoers when it comes to the legend's iconic hits. Swenson catches the edginess of "Solitary Man" and the spiritual feel of "Holly Holy." His "Cherry, Cherry" is properly exuberant, and his strong build-up on the first act-closing "Sweet Caroline'' leads to rousing audience responses of "so good" in what has become a kind of Fenway Park anthem. Swenson captures all of the heart and immigrant promise of "America." He delivers Diamond's tender and more thunderous songs with such authority and passion that he becomes the 'Jewish Elvis' (as some referred to the sequined performer)—losing himself in a performance for the ages.

At the same time, the armchair sequences that run throughout the musical do allow for a self-examination of sorts by Neil Diamond-Now. Veteran talent Mark Jacoby ("Showboat" and many others) does as much justice to (now 81) Diamond's wide-ranging misgivings about himself as a husband and parent as Swenson does to the performer's perseverance and determination with regard to his career. Jacoby has the right reluctance to talk about himself with Doctor, played with a convincing combination of patience and persistence by Linda Powell. Revealing to the therapist that he puts everything he has into his songs, Diamond-Now— forcefully self-critical in Jacoby's rich portrayal—proceeds to look back at his rise from Flatbush, Brooklyn poverty and difficult years in Tin Pan Alley to a talent gaining recognition writing songs made famous by others—"I'm a Believer" for example—and ultimately performing his own material before large audiences.

Along the way, McCarten's fairly informative book gives proper emphasis to the pivotal guidance and support of singer/songwriter/record producer Ellie Greenwich and the contrasting perilous association with Bang Records. Bri Sudia brings an appealing balance of sardonic wit and good natured caring to Greenwich. There are very different depictions of Diamond's first and second marriages. Jewish first wife Jayne Posner could do with more complexity in the book, though Jessie Fisher provides affecting vulnerability and understanding. Second wife Marcia Murphey, admittedly married much longer to Diamond before their divorce, still receives a fuller treatment—particularly as a strong-willed mate. Robyn Harder finds all of Marcia's earthiness and tenacity. She also displays vocal appeal on "Forever in Blue Jeans," a number that needs better moves for the ensemble tellingly known as "The Beautiful Noise."

The choreography for that ensemble is an ongoing issue. While the ten dancers are hardworking and talented, Steven Hoggett—an Olivier choreography award notwithstanding—often seems to give them repetitive configurations--though a number where they sport transistor radios to hear a Diamond song proves vivid. Another problem involves several numbers where the ensemble distracts from Swenson's charismatic deliveries. Admittedly, audience members did not seem to mind this kind of ensemble overkill as they cheered on dynamic Swenson.

Near the end of "A Beautiful Noise," Jacoby and Swenson come together in a very moving "I Am...I Said" duo after which Diamond-Now speaks of counting all his blessings. Count Swenson and Jacoby two terrific blessings. Diamond-Now notes that Brooklyn was not built in a day. So it goes with "A Beautiful Noise." With the right changes, this enjoyable tryout will make everyone a believer.