Review Roundup: A BEAUTIFUL NOISE Opens on Broadway!

A BEAUTIFUL NOISE is running on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre.

By: Dec. 04, 2022
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Review Roundup: A BEAUTIFUL NOISE Opens on Broadway!
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The Neil Diamond musical A BEAUTIFUL NOISE opened on Broadway  Sunday, December 4, 2022, at the Broadhurst Theater.

The cast is led by Tony Award nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond - Then, Mark Jacoby as Neil Diamond - Now, Robyn Hurder as Marcia, and Linda Powell as Doctor. They are joined by Jessie Fisher as Jaye Posner; Michael McCormick as Paul Colby, Tommy O'Rourke; Tom Alan Robbins as Bert Berns, Kieve Diamond; and Bri Sudia as Ellie Greenwich, Rose Diamond.

The ensemble, swings, and standbys include Neal Benari (standby Neil Diamond - Now), Jordan Dobson (ensemble), Ninako Donville (swing), Paige Faure (ensemble), Nick Fradiani (Alternate Neil Diamond - Then), Kalonjee Gallimore (ensemble), Samantha Gershman (swing), Becky Gulsvig (standby for Ellie Greenwich, Jaye Posner, Marcia, and Rose Diamond), Alex Hairston (ensemble), Makai Hernandez (swing), Jess LeProtto (ensemble), Tatiana Lofton (ensemble), Aaron James McKenzie (ensemble), Mary Page Nance (ensemble), Robert Pendilla (swing), Max Sangerman (ensemble), and MiMi Scardulla (ensemble).

Including a score of Diamond's most beloved songs, A Beautiful Noise features a book by four-time Academy Award-nominee Anthony McCarten (I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Theory of Everything), direction by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, American Idiot), and choreography by Olivier Award winner and four-time Tony Award nominee Steven Hoggett (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Once, Black Watch).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Times: It all looks and sounds great, but the clock is ticking — therapy! — and we are no closer to understanding the real Neil. Until, at long last, the older singer cracks and stops obfuscating. Naturally, the source of his discontent can be found in his childhood, and the show finally makes the essential connection between Diamond’s artistry and his roots, including his Jewishness. By that point it feels rushed and not quite earned, not to mention a little too nakedly sentimental. And yet, the beating heart of “A Beautiful Noise” is that sequence, featuring “Brooklyn Roads” and “America” leading into “Shilo,” which becomes Diamond’s Rosebud and is performed with almost unbearable grace by the ensemble member Jordan Dobson. Never mind: naked sentimentality is just fine.

Charles Isherwood, Wall Street Journal: Mr. Swenson credibly evokes Mr. Diamond’s gravel-scraped baritone, but while his singing is excellent, he cannot quite find a distinctive persona in the character as articulated by Mr. McCarten. As Neil goes through divorces and the self-questioning that any neurotic Jewish boy would undergo upon reaching unfathomable success, the character remains steadfastly stuck in lonely-sad mode. (A flashback to his childhood illustrates its roots: “What kind of boy never has a friend over to play?” his mother laments.)

Elysa Gardner, New York Sun: As is always the case with such efforts, some familiar songs are inserted with painfully obvious setups. It’s hard not to cringe when Neil and Marcia, recognizing that their marriage is doomed, segue into the sappy duet, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” On the other hand, while you can see “Sweet Caroline” coming from a mile away, it still lifts your heart instantly, an impeccably structured burst of pure joy.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press : Some of the songs are nicely presented, like “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” as 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, oversung by Wife No. 2 (Robyn Hurder) and choreographed with random dancers scurrying across the stage doing their own thing, as if in a busy train station. An awkward duet between Diamond’s first and second wives is best forgotten, too.

Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post: At first the musical follows the usual jukebox musical formula, straightforwardly depicting a young Brooklyn-born Diamond (Will Swenson) playing guitar at the Bitter End rock club on Bleecker Street and being discovered by record producer Ellie Greenwich (Bri Sudia). His nascent career is not unlike Carole King’s. (Don’t misunderstand me — “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is an infinitely superior show.) He writes hit songs for other more famous artists to sing, such as “I’m a Believer” for the Monkees.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: In the end, A Beautiful Noise can’t overcome the central challenge of being a Neil Diamond biomusical, which is that Diamond’s life has not been, in and of itself, especially dramatic. (The Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet! had the same problem.) His first two marriages failed, but in drifts and not crashes; an association with mob-linked record executives (Michael McCormick and Tom Alan Robbins) is quickly overcome. The therapeutic framing notwithstanding, what we get here is less a story than a retrospective sequence of events, or perhaps events of sequins.

Matt Windman, AM New York: But more often than not, “A Beautiful Noise” gets bogged down in a labored narrative premise in which a bitter and depressed Diamond of the present day (played by Mark Jacoby) relives a sanitized and simplified version of his life story by talking to a psychologist (Linda Powell) who serves as an interviewer/interrogator, culminating in a contrived attempt to achieve an emotional climax (in which both versions of Neil Diamond sing “I Am…I Said” together) and finally find an excuse for adding “America” into the playlist.

Chris Jones, NY Daily News: But to its credit, as directed with care by Michael Mayer, “Beautiful Noise” also comes with some fresh ideas, not the least of which is Steven Hoggett’s choreography, a kind of postmodern tribute to the retro 1970s movement stylings of the likes of Pan’s People in the U.K. or Up With People on this side of the Atlantic. It’s far from traditional Broadway movement and happily so: it won’t be for all tastes, but I enjoyed the way Hoggett works with the “vocal designer,” AnnMarie Milazzo, to really physically pop the pa, pa, pas in “Sweet Caroline,” and to play, multicorporally, with the show’s central theme — that the Diamond catalog was a beautiful noise constantly playing in the creator’s head and needing to be resolved.

Jackson McHenry, Vulture: The element of McCarten’s book that makes it stand out, slightly, from the typical fare is … therapy. The whole experience is framed by conversations between an older Neil (Mark Jacoby) and his psychologist (Linda Powell), who is pressuring him to open up by way of analyzing the lyrics to his own songs. Jacoby and Powell sit in armchairs on either side of the stage, and occasionally stay there during the flashbacks to young Neil (Will Swenson) performing, in a Drowsy Chaperone sort of arrangement. There’s poignancy to seeing a cloistered, depressive man like Diamond try to articulate how metaphorical storm clouds descend upon him whenever he’s not onstage, leading him to sabotage his personal life. But because the focus here is really on the hits, there’s only so deep these analyses can go. After that “Forever in Blue Jeans” sequence, Diamond’s shrink interjects, “So. Wonderful wife. Great kids. Raining money. World tours.” What did that lead to? Well, Neil responds, “more sequins,” and then we segue into “Soolaimon.”

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: If you’re a Neil Diamond fan, you’ll be in clover. All around this critic, his devoted faithful waved, pointed to the sky, swayed, whooped, and sang. A Beautiful Noise is a jukebox musical (Broadhurst Theatre, booking to September 3, 2023) only for those who love Neil Diamond—or for people who want to hear “Sweet Caroline” played with theater roof-raising gusto. If you’re not a Neil Diamond fan, you’ll have to figure out how much you want to hear “Sweet Caroline” played with theater roof-raising gusto, and make your ticket-buying choice accordingly.

Thom Geier, The Wrap: Given the advances in technology, you can imagine a future in which coders will be able to re-create the Neil Diamond concert experience in hologram form. (The star, now 81, retired from touring four years ago due to a battle with Parkinson’s.) For now, though, Swenson & Co. offer a reasonable facsimile of Diamond in the flesh for fans to soak up. Or, to paraphrase that quintessential Diamond hit “Sweet Caroline,” they try so hard, so hard, so hard.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: “Sweet Caroline” lands right before intermission, and the whole scene is so good (So good! So good! So good!) that this New Yorker almost forgot the song is the anthem for the Boston Red Sox. Book writer and biopic veteran Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour, Bohemian Rhapsody), also represented on Broadway this season by the Warhol-Basquiat play The Collaboration, places the songs thoughtfully, and for maximum emotional effect: Diamond’s first live performance is acoustic, the melancholy slow burn “Solitary Man.” As his confidence grows onstage, his numbers get bigger and glitzier. Act 2 opens with the wild, soulful “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” featuring the singer in full razzle-dazzle, sequin-and-tassel mode and the chorus shimmying for dear life. Combining “Brooklyn Roads” with “America” is a stroke of genius (though bringing in Neil’s bickering parents between verses dampens the mood). And the existential power ballad “I Am…I Said” gets the spot it deserves, as the 11 o’clock number, where it’s sung by Mark Jacoby as present-day Neil, with Swenson joining in at the end.

Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: The problem is that Diamond, at least as he’s portrayed here, isn’t much fun to spend two-and-a-quarter hours with. Will Swenson and Mark Jacoby, as the younger and older versions respectively, do what they can, with the former obviously having the advantage because he gets to show off the sequined outfits and sing all of the hits. But the more they both mope about the problems of being a rich and famous pop star adored by millions, the more you want to channel your inner Cher, slap them silly, and yell, “Snap out of it!”

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: I know many people worked hard to put “A Beautiful Noise” — not least a large beautiful ensemble. I’m not immune to the tunefulness of many of the songs. I’ll admit that after the show ended, I could not stop humming one of the melodies in my head. But the show also sparked a memory that I had forgotten. Immediately after the COVID-19 lockdown began, there was a rash of coronavirus parody videos, with amateur musicians performing famous pop songs with newly created pandemic related lyrics. Neil Diamond was the only famous professional musicians I know of, who did a video spoofing his own song. This was the Neil Diamond, a witty, low-key, generous old man, whom I would have loved to see more of on stage – and whom I glimpsed in Mark Jacoby’s sequin-less performance, the highlight of “A Beautiful Noise” for me, if nobody else.

Dan Meyer, Theatrely: Despite this being Neil’s story, it is the women who shine brightest, particularly Robyn Hurder as Marsha Murphey (Diamond’s second wife) and Bri Sudia as record exec Ellie Greenwich. Hurder, who at this point should be at “national treasure” status and is easily the best dancer on Broadway right now, owns the stage whenever under the spotlight. Her belting at the end of “Forever in Blue Jeans” is sublime. Sudia, making her Broadway debut, is hilarious and quippy thanks to McCarten’s best-structured part of the story: Neil’s transition from struggling artist to bona-fide superstar.

David Cote, Observer: It all comes down to storytelling: the story Neil tells himself; the one A Beautiful Noise re-tells us. Musicals (most of them) need a resonant, gluey book the way an oak needs root structure; successful books are rhizomatic—invisible and everywhere. It’s a more urgent criterion for the love-it-or-hate-it jukebox subgenre, which decays into meta-silliness so easily. Sure, audiences flock to a beloved icon’s catalog, but if fame were enough, past flops cobbled around The Beach Boys, Elvis, and Johnny Cash would still be running, not near-forgotten (Good Vibrations, All Shook Up, and Ring of Fire for those who don’t hoard Playbills). Beautiful—The Carole King Musical and Jersey Boys caught that pop lightning in the bottle through a combination of humor and ruthless fictive devices. “Rockstar in analysis” is an idea with potential; the couch is a charged locus for rage, tears, and revelation. Or a nice nap.

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