NEW YORK (AP) — There are some interesting cocktails on offer at “The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise” on Broadway and it might not be such a bad idea to order a Sweet Clementine or a Cracklin’ Rosé before to get to your Just Something to help lubricate one of the most confusing jukebox musicals in years.
The show, which opened at the Broadhurst Theater on Sunday, is a pretty depressing journey through Diamond’s life, offering a respectful and, yes, fully authorized portrait that is unnecessarily boastful – “40 top 40 hits; 120 million albums sold “, we are told – as well as positively grumpy.
The conceit is that an older diamond reluctantly goes to therapy to figure out why he’s so sad. (“It’s officially torture,” he grumbles—not the best way to start a musical.) A lyric songbook Diamond his psychologist offers offers time travel to key moments in his life, such as “Sweet Caroline”, “Song Sung Blue”, “America” and “Cracklin’ Rosie”.
It is then that an astonishing Will Swenson as a young Diamond digs deep into his throat to paint the portrait of a tortured artist as a young man, dripping with lamé and sequins. Swenson is incredibly good in every number, elevating superficial material to lofty heights and even playing mean guitar. “How are you tonight, Broadway?” ” he asks. We eat out of your hand, sir.
But here’s the first problem: the elder Diamond (Mark Jacoby) STAYS on stage in a leather chair, looking sullen for the full two hours of the show, during very exciting musical numbers. He and his therapist linger for most of the show as unwanted guests. It gets really scary. Maybe they deserve the cocktails?
Other bizarre choices quickly come to mind, like why 10 dancers emerged from Diamond’s chair to act like a disturbed choir, why decorator David Rockwell has two dozen random dining room lights hanging at different heights and why choreographer Steven Hoggett went from small hand movements to over-the-top Vegas choreography without consistency.
We’re going through the days of Diamond writing hit after hit for others – “I’m a Believer” for The Monkees, “Red Red Wine” for UB40 – but he lacked confidence. “You are too good,” he is told. “Nobody cares about me,” he says. A club owner calls him ‘Hamlet’, we guess because he’s sad? (Has anyone here read “Hamlet”?)
The backbone of the story is Diamond’s rise to international fame and wealth – greater than Elvis, he tells us – despite his determined inability to be happy as he goes through three marriages and has several. children. A child’s loneliness is belatedly identified as a possible cause, in the excruciating final minutes where you could hear a pin drop as he bared his soul, then it was instantly erased in several brash songs – “Sweet Caroline” in a predictable rebound – and an absurd confetti fall.
Anthony McCarten’s book is clearly too respectful – Diamond’s gruesome movie acting decisions are quickly glossed over, for example – and Michael Mayer’s directing never manages to reconcile sadness with highs. Diamond’s lifeline isn’t his music but his romantic relationships, and it’s hard to cheer on a wealthy man leaving a 25-year-old second marriage.
Some of the songs are well laid out, such as “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” a duet between Diamond and his second wife, and a gospel-tinged “Holly Holy”, but others are not: “Forever in Blue Jeans “, is a mess, sung by Woman #2 (Robyn Hurder) and choreographed with random dancers rushing onto the stage doing their own thing, like at a busy train station. An awkward duet between Diamond’s first and second wives is best forgotten too.
It all seems to culminate in a song, a psychoanalytical breakthrough that hides in plain sight: “I Am…I Said,” with lyrics about a frog-turned-king. This song apparently solves everything. Shouldn’t the musical be called “Forever in Blue Genes”?
Audience participation is encouraged, and there are times when the show becomes a song as it turns into pure pandering. “A Beautiful Noise” knows who its aging audience is and gives them what they came for, complete with a Khrushchev joke. For the rest of us, there are always cocktails.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits