The awful Broadway show is on hold

Good times never seemed so dull.

So boring. So boring. So boring.

“A Beautiful Noise, the Neil Diamond Musical,” which opened creakily on Broadway on Sunday night, begins in the quietest, most disinterested manner imaginable. The light of a seemingly simple therapy session goes on and the aged title musician (Mark Jacoby) sits across from a woman in a red leather chair.

theater criticism

2 hours and 15 minutes, with one break. At the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W 44th St.

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

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

That’s a confusing way to start a show that ticket buyers have come for, I would assume, because they’re big fans of Diamond’s popular catalogue. But “A Beautiful Noise” is one wrong moment after another.

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

Or the two singalongs for “Song Sung Blue” and “Sweet Caroline”, which at least during my performance hardly encouraged anyone to sing along.

Will Swenson plays Neil Diamond "A nice sound" On Broadway.
Will Swenson plays Diamond in “A Beautiful Noise” on Broadway.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

First, following the standard jukebox musical formula, the musical goes straight to 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 burgeoning career is not unlike that of Carole King. (Don’t get me wrong – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is an infinitely superior show.) He writes hits to be sung by other, more well-known 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 his pleasantly raspy voice. And the diamond we know today was born.

Posner, in one of the occasional moments when a character uses a song to express her feelings, sings “Love on the Rocks” as their marriage falls apart. But all the drama on stage is falsely quiet, so such emotional moments as it should be are weighed down by indifference. The plot boils down to two relatively amicable divorces and some signed contracts.

Robyn Hurder sings as Marcia Murphey "Forever in blue jeans."
Robyn Hurder sings “Forever in Blue Jeans” as Marcia Murphey.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Hurder brings a burst of vivacity as Murphey, nailing “Forever in Blue Jeans.” I can’t tell you why Murphey sings it though.

Act 2 is a largely incomprehensible amalgamation of events with the fundamental realization that fame is hard. As Diamond tours the world, his hair grows bushier and his outfits shinier. His star status puts a strain on his relationship with Murphey and Swenson and Hurder’s duet on You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.

Steven Hoggett’s choreography gets more spirited during concerts, but all the hopping around is uncomfortable to watch – like live bait squirming on a hook. At other times, he has the cast make obnoxious “Walk Like an Egyptian”-esque hand gestures.

The setting for the go-go-gone-wild movement and Michael Mayer’s Saltine Cracker direction is David Rockwell’s set of panels of taut parallel strings, which look great in Nobu – not in a Broadway musical. The scenery doesn’t easily shift to the variety of locations that decades of history demands.

David Rockwell's set includes panels with stretched cords and a pair of red armchairs.
David Rockwell’s set includes panels with stretched cords and a pair of red armchairs.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

At least the omakase-style decor is elegant. Chunkier are the ugly old therapy chairs that often flank the stage as the doctor and older Neil watch past events as if he were Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” a few blocks away. The lazy frame story is absolutely deadly.

Still, of the two men who play Diamond, Jacoby is the better actor – albeit burdened with some abysmal dialogue – and possesses the evening’s most exciting musical moment when he sings “I Am… I Said.”

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

Jacoby conjures up a superstar rocker energy — even retired and in a boring gray sweater — that Swenson can’t muster. Usually it’s the lead performances that redeem and uplift these soulless musician MadLib shows. Unfortunately, Swenson fails to impress and we feel we don’t get to know the inner workings of a prolific and genius singer-songwriter.

“A Beautiful Noise” ends with a second sing-along of “Sweet Caroline” – an experience you can have any night at any bar in New York that serves beer. And there, off Broadway, you’ll really feel Diamond’s legacy reach out, touch me, touch you. The awful Broadway show is on hold

Emma Bowman

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