A Beautiful Noise review: Neil Diamond pulls back the curtain on his catalog of hits for new Broadway musical

Biographical musicals, by now, have a pretty unbreakable formula. You start with the catalog of the artist's hits, pair them with pivotal moments in the performer's career, and the rest sort of… works itself out from there.

At best, the untold story is so dynamic it surprises, like 2006's Jersey Boys, the only one of the genre ever to nab a Tony Award for Best Musical. Or perhaps there's an actor cast in the lead role who elevates the material beyond the predictable, dramatic beats (think Adrienne Warren in Tina, Myles Frost in MJ, Stephanie J. Block in The Cher Show, and Jessie Mueller in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical).

At worst, you're left with something that can easily feel like Wikipedia: The Musical.

A Beautiful Noise, the Neil Diamond biomusical that opened Sunday at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City, sadly sometimes trends closer to the latter than the former. But like Diamond's 1969 hit "Sweet Caroline," the infectiousness of the overall experience trumps the air of cheese to it and will have audiences cheering "so good, so good, so good" by the show's end.

A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical

Julieta Cervantes Will Swenson as ‘Neil Diamond' in 'A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical'

Much of that is thanks to the diverse ensemble, including standouts Tatiana Lofton and Jess LeProtto, who all bring a burst of undeniable energy to each of choreographer Steven Hoggett's moves that's impossible to resist. Paired with Diamond's catalog of hits like "Crunchy Granola Suite," "Cracklin Rosie," "Song Sung Blue," "Cherry, Cherry" — and even those songs he wrote for other artists, like "I'm a Believer," the 1966 No. 1 single for the Monkees — the musical numbers are so cheerful, they're guaranteed to uplift.

Where the show stumbles sometimes are in the book scenes, which are structured around a gruff, present-day Diamond (played by Mark Jacoby) reluctantly examining his songbook in a series of therapy sessions. As his doctor (the earnest Linda Powell) pushes Diamond to reveal the deeper meaning behind his lyrics, a younger Diamond (this time portrayed by Will Swenson) brings those moments to life, with Jacoby and Powell looking on from the sidelines.

It's a smart, artful concept, and one Diamond himself praised book writer Anthony McCarten for proposing during the development process. The Grammy winner writes in the show's Playbill: "Sitting in the theater and watching the show has itself been therapeutic; reliving some joyful and some of the painful parts of my life, wishing perhaps that if I could only make a few edits to the script, it would change some of the reality of what I was seeing. But in the end, coming to terms with my life and accepting it has somehow come full circle. I feel fortunate and full of gratitude for all the people in my life. It is each of them who have impacted and shaped me in their own way to get me to the place where I am now… a better man. A better father. A better husband. A better songwriter."

That's a touching revelation, and one that holds even more weight when you consider that Diamond's long-standing performance career has been drastically slowed by the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a diagnosis he announced in January 2018, shortly after the completion of this 50th anniversary world tour. But while Diamond may have found personal insight in the storytelling, audiences might be seeking a little more as McCarten's words often fail to scratch deeper into the musician's mind than beyond the surface.

A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical

Julieta Cervantes Robyn Hurder as Marcia Murphey and Will Swenson as Neil Diamond in 'A Beautiful Noise'

Take the women in Diamond's life, for example. First wife Jay Posner (Jessie Fisher) and second wife Marcia Murphey (Moulin Rouge breakthrough Robyn Hurder) are both presented, essentially, as the same supportive, loving spouses who suffer in loneliness as Diamond devotes himself to his craft. Challenged to open up about the feelings he has over his treatment of them, Diamond isn't able to translate the emotions and poetry he puts into his lyrics into anything other than dismissive regret, a disservice to audiences who then fail to see these women as anything more than trite characters living for a man's love.

Similar limits are placed upon Diamond's recollection of pivotal moments in his career, like when he signs a deal with a mob-run record company. We get a portrait of the pressure he was under to deliver, but not any insight into learnings of what moments like that in life taught Diamond, with McCarten and director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Funny Girl) instead breezing through any internal vulnerability in favor of another zestful performance of one of Diamond's 40 top 40 hits.

Which… sure. This is a musical, after all, and one with a lot of ground to cover. The show itself clocks in at two hours and 15 minutes and features 29 of Diamond's songs including "Shilo," "America," "Kentucky Woman," and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" — one might think, "How much more time do we need to spend talking here?" But take the final, pivotal book scene in the show as proof of what A Beautiful Noise could be. Sitting with his therapist, Diamond finally opens up about his inability to tour anymore, putting into clear perspective why these therapy sessions have mattered so much to him now. He shares that he doesn't want to make the same mistakes he has in the past with his now third wife, as he's forced to face the realities of a life away from the stage. It's a deeply effective scene; it's just a shame McCarten didn't give us more moments like that one.

A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical

Julieta Cervantes Mark Jacoby as Neil Diamond in 'A Beautiful Noise'

All this to say, this critic doubts audiences will notice those failings, or even care. Those going to A Beautiful Noise want to be entertained and entertained they will be. Swenson, in particular, sounds nearly identical to Diamond in his raspy vocals, as does Jacoby, who gets his turn at the mic in the musical's emotional 11 o'clock number, "I Am… I Said" (and the predictable curtain call singalong of "Sweet Caroline"). They're two solid, grounded performances that not only anchor the show but should also channel eyeballs come awards season.

Hurder especially shines in her performance of "Forever in Blue Jeans," giving full "Music in the Mirror" as she disappears in dance to the Diamond hit. It feels a bit out of place, tailored for more of Hurder's talents than the character's needs, but damn if she doesn't sell the heck out of it.

A Beautiful Noise is produced by Ken Davenport and Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons fame, who worked on Jersey Boys. It very well might be a long-running hit like that musical, especially considering Diamond's popularity (he's sold over 120 million albums in his career, as is mentioned in the show). It's just too bad it leaves you wanting more. B

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