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Awful Broadway show is on the rocks

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Good times never seemed so boring.

So dull. So dull. So dull.

“A Beautiful Noise, the Neil Diamond Musical,” which opened Sunday night on Broadway, begins in the quietest, most straightforward way imaginable. The lights come on in a seemingly simple therapy session, and the now-elderly titular musician (Mark Jacoby) sits across from a woman in a red leather chair.

theater review

2 hours and 15 minutes, with an intermission. At the Broadhurst Theater, 235 W 44th St.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor (Linda Powell) tells her. “I don’t know your songs.

Diamond, not offended, then pulls out his practical dandy songbook, opens it, and explains who he is through his songs.

It’s a bewildering way to start a show that ticket buyers have come to see, I suspect, because they’re big fans of Diamond’s popular back catalog. But “A Beautiful Noise” is one off-key moment after another.

Just wait until you get to the childhood flashback of repressed memory in Act 2, to the songs “Brooklyn Roads” and “Shilo,” in which nothing noticeable happens.

Or the two songs, “Song Sung Blue” and “Sweet Caroline”, which, during my performance anyway, elicited very little chanting.

Will Swenson plays Diamond in “A Beautiful Noise” on Broadway.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

At first, the musical follows the usual jukebox musical formula, directly depicting a young Brooklyn-born Diamond (Will Swenson) playing guitar at the Bitter End rock club on Bleecker Street and discovered by record producer Ellie Greenwich (Bri Sudia). Her budding career is reminiscent of that of Carole King. (Don’t get me wrong – “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is an infinitely superior spectacle.) He writes hit songs for other more famous artists, like “I’m a Believer” for the monkeys.

When he leaves his first wife Jaye Posner (Jessie Fisher) for Marcia Murphey (Robyn Hurder), his new girlfriend encourages him to actually perform his compositions in her pleasingly gravelly voice. And the Diamond we know today was born.

Posner, in one of the occasional moments where a character uses a song to express their feelings, sings “Love on the Rocks” as their marriage falls apart. But all the drama on stage is mistakenly quiet, so such emotional moments should be loaded with indifference. The plot boils down to two relatively friendly divorces and a few signed contracts.

Like Marcia Murphey, Robyn Hurder sings "Still in blue jeans."
As Marcia Murphey, Robyn Hurder sings “Forever in Blue Jeans”.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Hurder brings a burst of liveliness as Murphey and nails “Forever in Blue Jeans.” Why Murphey sings it, however, I couldn’t tell you.

Act 2 is an amalgamation of mostly incomprehensible events with the basic conclusion that fame is hard. Diamond goes around the world, her hair getting bushier and her outfits shimmering. Her star status puts a strain on her relationship with Murphey, and the duo Swenson and Hurder on “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”

Steven Hoggett’s choreography gets livelier during concerts, but all the twists are unpleasant to watch – like live bait squirming on a hook. At other times, he has the cast make obnoxious “Walk like an Egyptian” hand gestures.

The backdrop for the go-go-gone-wild movement and the direction of Michael Mayer’s salty crackers is David Rockwell’s panel set of taut parallel strings that look great in Nobu – not in a musical by Broadway. The landscape does not easily transform into the variety of locations that the decades-long history demands.

David Rockwell's set includes stretched rope panels and a few red armchairs.
David Rockwell’s set includes stretched rope panels and a few red armchairs.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

At least the omakase style decor is stylish. More awkward are the ugly old therapy chairs that often flank the scene as the doctor and older Neil observe past events as he is Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” a few blocks away. The story of the lazy frame is absolutely deadly.

Still, of the two men who play Diamond, it’s Jacoby who is the better actor – albeit grappling with abysmal dialogue – and who owns the most exciting musical moment of the night when he sings “I Am. ..I Said”.

Mark Jacoby has the show's best musical moment when he sings "I am... I said."
Mark Jacoby has the show’s best musical moment when he sings “I Am…I Said.”
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Jacoby summons superstar rocker energy — even retired and in a boring gray sweater — that Swenson can’t muster. Usually, it’s the main performances that redeem and elevate these shows by soulless MadLib musicians. Sadly, Swenson makes no impression, and we feel like we know nothing about the inner life of a prolific and resourceful singer-songwriter.

“A Beautiful Noise” ends with a second single of “Sweet Caroline” – an experience you can have every night at any bar in New York that serves beer. And it’s there, not on Broadway, where you’ll really feel Diamond’s legacy reaching out, touching me, touching you.

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New York Post

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