Creating an entertaining, captivating Broadway jukebox musical on the career of a single performer is a difficult proposition. Successful productions have been Beautiful - the Carole King Musical and the current MJ (Michael Jackson) - the Musical. Why? They include full-fledged secondary characters that help augment and strengthen the storyline. There are also compelling and dramatic moments in the life of the artist portrayed on stage that draw in the audience. The absence of these two points is why the Neil Diamond musical, A Beautiful Noise, falls short.
The matter-of-fact story, penned by Anthony McCarten, begins with an empty stage. A therapy session is about to begin between an aged Neil Diamond, played with a somber intensity by Broadway veteran Mark Jacoby, and a female psychologist. At first resisting any inner reflections, the singer/songwriter finally relents. From there, the musical opens up. The older Neil and his therapist remain on stage for much of the show, periodically re-entering the production to comment and help connect scenes.
We follow the young, inexperienced musician looking to sell his songs as his supportive, pregnant wife cheers him on. He eventually meets songwriter/producer Ellie Greenwich, who jumpstarts his writing and performing career. We witness his production deal with a Mafia related record company. While performing at the Greenwich Village nightspot The Bitter End, he meets Marcia Murphy, who becomes his second wife and all-around cheerleader. In the end, through marital troubles and inner doubts, Neil Diamond succeeds in climbing the ladder of fame and fortune. He also has a satisfying epiphany from his counseling session.
There is very little drama from Neil Diamond’s career that librettist McCarten can exploit. Besides the character of Marica Murphy, portrayed with vitality and dedication by Robyn Hurder, there are almost no interesting individuals that intersect with his life. Instead, Director Michael Mayer has gussied up the story with an ensemble of dancers that look to enliven even the plainest of scenes. Most times, the choreography by Steven Hoggett leaves you scratching your head. Unfortunately, they serve more as a distraction rather than an attraction. David Rockwell’s Scenic Design is more minimalistic with touches of grandeur as witnessed by the over-the-top rising platform that closes Act I.
The songs of Neil Diamond are the true gemstones of A Beautiful Noise. Will Swenson gives a very credible performance as the pop/rock star. The actor brings an innocence, yet fervor and dedication to the Rock ‘ Roll Hall of Famer. He delivers dozens of the showman’s hits from the 1960’s through the 90’s with energy and passion. I preferred the early hits highlighted in Act I. They include “Cherry, Cherry,” “Solitary Man,” “Cracklin' Rosie,” “Song Sung Blue,” “I Am... I Said,” “Holly Holy,” “Kentucky Woman,” and, of course, the crowd-pleasing “Sweet Caroline.”
A Beautiful Noise, a disappointing entry into the crowded jukebox musical field.