I really should have taken my mother to see “A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical,” which was designed to appeal to a Baby Boomer demographic that came of age listening to and buying Diamond’s records and who are eager to take a trip down memory lane while singing and swaying along to “I’m a Believer” and “Sweet Caroline.”
“A Beautiful Noise” falls into the subcategory of jukebox musicals that revolves around the biographies of famous pop artists who had their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, such as “Beautiful” (Carole King) and “Jersey Boys” (the Four Seasons). Coincidentally, two music industry icons who have their own lesser-known jukebox musicals, Ellie Greenwich (“Leader of the Pack”) and Bert Berns (“Piece of My Heart”), turn up as supporting characters in “A Beautiful Noise.”
At its best, “A Beautiful Noise” (as directed with Las Vegas glitz by Michael Mayer) delivers straightforward showmanship and pop concert entertainment – even if it goes somewhat overboard with the sequined jumpsuits, neon lights, and unmistakably evangelical flavor (which is unusual to encounter in the story of a Jewish boy from Brooklyn). The sound quality is topnotch and a free-floating ensemble adds back-up vocals and dancing.
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.
The audience is reassured at least once every five minutes that Diamond is “a very famous man” who was once the biggest box office draw in the world and even bigger than Elvis, which gives the show the feel of a bland corporate advertisement, even while it makes an attempt to give Diamond individuality by painting him as a workaholic who experienced two failed marriages and now needs therapy.
As the younger Diamond, Will Swenson gives a competent but shallow performance that is far from the primal energy he conveyed so powerfully a decade ago as Berger in “Hair.” The unexpected standout of the company is Robyn Hurder, who plays Diamond’s second wife and scores with an assertive and strutting second act rendition of “Forever in Blue Jeans.”
One can see why “Sweet Caroline” is played during each game at Fenway Park. When it turns up as the show’s act one finale and during a post-curtain call encore, a temporary communal joy sweeps over the crowd. With that in mind, I would have preferred a karaoke bar where everyone gets drunk and sings along to Diamond’s greatest hits over “A Beautiful Noise.”
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., abeautifulnoisethemusical.com.