“A Beautiful Noise, The Musical With Nile Diamond,” which opened Sunday night on Broadway, gets off to a quiet, nonchalant start. The lights are on in a simple-looking therapy session, and the titular musician, now aged (Marc Jacoby), sits across from the woman in a red leather chair.
2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission. at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W 44th St.
“I’m sorry,” said the doctor (Linda Powell). “I don’t know your songs.”
Undeterred, Diamond then pulled out his handy songbook, cracked it open, and explained who he was through his tunes.
I think it’s a confusing way to start a show that ticket buyers came to see because they’re big fans of Diamond’s back catalog. But “Beautiful Noise” is one highlight after another.
Wait until you get to Episode 2’s repressed childhood memory, set to the tunes of ‘Brooklyn Lanes’ and ‘Shiloh,’ and nothing feels off about it.
Or two songs like “Song Sung Blue” and “Sweet Caroline,” which prompted very little singing in my performance anyway.
Initially, the musical follows the usual jukebox musical formula, in which young Brooklyn native Diamond (Will Swenson) is discovered by guitarist and producer Ellie Greenwich (Brie Sudia) at the Bitter End rock club on Bleecker Street. Her budding career is not unlike that of Carole King. (Don’t get me wrong — “Beautiful: The Musical by Carole King” is an infinitely superior show.) He writes hit songs to sing for other famous artists, such as “I’m a Believer” for the Monkees.
When he leaves his first wife, Jay Posner (Jesse Fisher), for Marcia Murphy (Robin Herder), his new daughter encourages him to play her own compositions in her lovely gravelly voice. And the Diamond we know today was born.
According to Posner, sometimes a character uses song to express his feelings, singing “Love on the Rocks” when his marriage is falling apart. But all the drama on stage is falsely quiet, so that emotional moments that should be so are loaded with indifference. The plot revolves around two relatively amicable breakups and some signed contracts.
Hurder brings a burst of exuberance as Murphy and creates “Forever in Blue Jeans.” Why Murphy sings it, though, I couldn’t tell you.
Part 2 is an inexplicable combination of events with the main thing that fame is difficult. Diamonds travel around the world, their hair is piled up and their clothes are brighter. Her star status ruins her relationship with Murphy, and Swenson and Herder duet “Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
Stephen Hoggett’s choreography gets more lively during the concerts, but it’s unpleasant to see all the jumping on top of it – like live bait on a hook. Other times, he does the actors’ obnoxious “Walk Like an Egyptian” hand gestures.
Against the backdrop of go-go-gone-wild action and Michael Mayer’s saltine-cracker direction are David Rockwell’s set of taut parallel string panels that would look great at Nobu—not in a Broadway musical. The landscape doesn’t easily transform into the variety of locations that a decades-long story requires.
At least the omakase-style decor is elegant. Clunkier are the ugly old therapy chairs often side by side on stage as the doctor and the older Neal watch the events of the past a few blocks away like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Lazy frame story is absolutely disastrous.
Still, Jacoby, the better of the two men playing Diamond, even if he’s indulging in some abysmal dialogue, delivers the most exciting musical moment of the night when he screams, “I…I said so!” occupies
Jacoby summons a superstar rocker energy — even retired and in a boring gray sweater — that Swenson can’t muster. Usually it’s the main performances that save and elevate these soulless musician MadLib shows. Unfortunately, Swenson fails to impress and we feel like we know nothing about the inner life of the prolific and intelligent singer.
“Beautiful Noise” closes with the second song, “Sweet Caroline,” an experience you can get every night at any bar in New York that sells beer. And there, not on Broadway, is where you really feel Diamond’s legacy reaching out, touching me and touching you.