Friday, October 27, 2023

A Beautiful Noise (Broadway)


An old man and a psychiatrist play a psywar in a dark counseling room. Almost at the brink of surrender, the Doctor (Shirine Babb) unveils her final weapon: a thick songbook of all his hits. Neil Diamond (Mark Jacoby) is not happy but gives it a shot with the prodding of his current wife. As they go through his lyrics as some form of psychoanalysis, he takes a trip down memory lane starting from a younger Neil’s (Nick Fradiani) humble beginnings as a son of an immigrant family in Flatbush all the way to his meteoric rise as one of America’s best selling singer/songwriters of all time. Each song harks back to a core memory which includes meeting his first agent Ellie Greenwich (Bri Sudia) as well as his second wife Marcia (Robyn Hurder), all leading to an effort to reconcile what was with what is.

I don’t know who Neil Diamond is. His only song I am familiar with is Sweet Caroline, and that’s simply because it was featured on Glee. The sign of a good autobiographical jukebox musical is when it doesn’t just serve as a nostalgia-fueled sing-along onstage for the loyal fanbase to enjoy, but also pulls you in, as a new spectator, to genuinely want to get to know the subject. A Beautiful Noise fulfills that criteria and comes up with an endearing tale of success, heartbreak, and life in general. Now I am curious about Diamond’s discography. In a week or two he’ll probably gain a new fan.

Watching row after row of old people probably in their 70’s turn this musical into a fan appreciation event has been a pleasant experience, as if I suddenly became part of something communally binding. I’m not a concert person, but I’m guessing the experience would be something similar to this sans the storyline. It was also surprising to discover some songs I never knew were his, either in his capacity as a songwriter in the case of I’m a Believer or as a recording artist himself such as America. It’s nice to finally put a face on some of the lyrics.

As for the subject matter, I was surprised by the choice of execution by virtue of a therapy session. It is always a wonder when these famous people go through existential crises like this. Like, man, you are filthy rich, you have a big family, and you also enjoy that huge success worldwide. What is the fuss all about, then? If anything, that is what A Beautiful Noise succeeds in doing, humanizing a musical legend and bringing him down to the level of us mere mortals. Surprise, Neil Diamond has insecurities, too.

But warranted, at least. The musical makes it a point for the audience to understand where everything is coming from with the psychiatrist as their anchor. It’s like a journey into the inner thoughts of a musician. What I find fascinating is how it seems to echo several others in the field, on how they transform into a totally different persona while performing, only to come back to “just them” when all the glitz and adrenaline are gone. Perhaps that’s just one of the wonders of the human condition.

The undeniable climax is obviously Sweet Caroline, a grandiose song and dance number bathed in bright lights and sequins that they elect to conclude the first act. What gives you goosebumps is not the mere flamboyance of the presentation, but rather its juxtaposition to that plot point where the hero is at the lowest point of his life when an epiphany suddenly hits him. In a Beautiful Noise, it’s Diamond introducing his biggest hit before his younger self slaps you with a show stopping number. That, right there, is a triumph both in presentation and storytelling that puts a smile on your face.

While American Idol alumnus Fradiani does most of the heavy lifting as far as musical numbers are concerned, the rest of the cast are not to be outdone. Watch out for Hurder’s rendition of Forever in Blue Jeans as well as Jacoby’s own take on I Am… I Said.

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