Neil Diamond’s “Beautiful Noise” at Colonial — We’ve Seen His Show, Now We Believe It
What happens if you feed a wolf? Will it get closer and closer and end up devouring you? In “The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise,” a character tells the story of two wolves (an old Cherokee tale) inside of us all, waging war on each other. One is good and happy, and the other is angry and sad. Which wolf wins, character Marcia Murphey (Robyn Hurder) applies to Diamond. The answer: the wolf you feed.
In the vibrant “A Beautiful Noise” (through Aug. 7), musical numbers and Anthony McCarten’s book show the bored Diamond doing his best to feed the happy wolf with music. The Brooklyn-born artist spent years in New York’s Tin Pan Alley writing songs for other artists before finally achieving huge success with The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.” However, instead of celebrating the victory, the indefatigable Diamond worried about his next move and preferred to bury himself to write it down. Throughout his chronicled career in production, Diamond has battled the blues. Loneliness and sadness were pushed back on the tours, baptized with bright lights, saturated with glitter and framed with fringe. But crooning her heart out before worshiping the audience was only a temporary fix.
Soon the clouds returned. And that’s understandable. During his more than 50-year career, Diamond has released dozens of albums, 21 of which have gone platinum, and 38 of the top 40 singles with more than 130 million copies sold, according to Universal Music Entertainment Group. That’s a lot of material. But “writing, at its best, is a lonely life,” shared the late famed author Ernest Hemingway in his 1954 Literature Nobel Prize acceptance speech. To boost his career, Diamond likely spent as much time writing than touring, missing out on much of his family’s life.
“A Beautiful Noise,” which Ambassador Theater Group brought to the Emerson Colonial Theater ahead of its Broadway run, has been plagued by the pandemic, like many other productions. The first 19 preview shows were reduced to nine while several members of the company recovered from illness. “You would never know there were issues, though, given the dynamic top-down performance.
Brave Will Swenson as Diamond, along with a formidable ensemble of more than a dozen talented actors and singers, robustly performed the singer’s greatest hits, from “I’m a Believer to “Kentucky Woman” and “Sweet Caroline.” », accompanied by an energetic group, all under the inspired direction of Michael Mayer. (The audience singing along to “Sweet Caroline” was one of the highlights of the night, even for non-Red Sox fans.) The cast’s upbeat choreography and excellent singing chops make the show feel like to be a real concert.
Production begins unexpectedly. It’s quiet, with an older Diamond (Mark Jacoby) in the doctor’s office. The doctor (Linda Powell) quotes Diamond’s words to prompt him to dig deeper into his past to uncover the root of his misfortunes. As the two fade into memory, audiences are introduced to Diamond’s catalog and life, with some of the members also serving as wives and music industry folks.
The show is a fast, swirling sweep of more than two hours in the life of Diamond (Will Swenson). The audience discovers his first wife, Jaye, who was his girlfriend in high school. Jesse Fisher’s Jaye doesn’t have much time to shine, but it’s clear from their quick interaction that there’s a difference in life philosophy. She wants to focus on the victories in life now, to be proud of her husband and for him to be proud of himself. Instead, Diamond is consumed afterwards. Once Diamond, rooted in humility, sadness, and creativity, sets out on the path to true stardom and meets Robyn Hurder’s Marcia Murphey, her marriage to Jaye becomes troubled. Fisher performs Diamond’s “Love on the Rocks” to signal the end of the relationship, but struggles to soar into the moving ballad.
Like Swenson, Hurder is an absolute force. First his friend, then his lover and later his wife, Hurder’s Murphey remained married to Diamond for 25 years. Hurder is a triple threat who is remarkably gifted in acting, singing, and choreography and brings the house down when she performs “Forever in Blue Jeans.” Jordon Dobson and Bri Sudia’s gorgeous vocals, Tatiana Lofton’s energetic dancing and Steven Hoggett’s choreography are also quite memorable.
But all the lights, music, velvet and bell bottoms couldn’t completely erase Diamond’s seemingly long battle with loneliness. Diamond fed the good wolf for decades, touring tirelessly, performing three-hour shows until his touring crew felt more like family and home than his actual home.
Leaving the theater, even with the infectious music and dazzling production values playing in my head, I couldn’t help but wonder about the end of his touring career due to Parkinson’s disease. How will he feed the wolf now?
“The Neil Diamond Musical: A Beautiful Noise” runs through August 7 at the Emerson Colonial Theater.