L-R: Will Swenson, Mark Jacoby and Linda Powell in 'A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical' (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

By now, fans of Neil Diamond know that the man is from New York. He references the city in a string of time-held hits like “New York Boy,” “Brooklyn Roads” and “I Am…I Said.” In that last song, Diamond croons, “Well I’m New York City born and raised / But nowadays / I’m lost between two shores / L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home / New York’s home / But it ain’t mine no more.” The refrain paints a picture of a forlorn man, passing through the skies and two distinct lives. The song exudes emotional imagery, but withholds details of what exactly causes Diamond’s low spirits. Regretfully, Broadway’s “A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical” — written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Michael Mayer — follows suit. 

The musical opens as a play. Present-day, 80-something-year-old Neil Diamond (a sublime Mark Jacoby) sits in therapy with his Doctor (a quietly forceful Linda Powell) and she probes him about his history of chronic loneliness. The psychoanalysis set-up lures us in with a promise of revelation: What better way to delve into the intimacies of such a well-known man than from a therapist’s chair? We soon find out, however, that neither Diamond nor McCarten are willing to share much.

Since this pioneer of pop does not like to talk about himself, Doctor proposes a nontraditional approach: foraging into Diamond’s canon of “39 albums. 40 Top 40 Hits, 120 millions albums sold.” These statistics repeat throughout the show as if McCarten was overly concerned about the relevance of his central figure in 2022. But the truth is, even the most obscure of musical artists could warrant a captivating production — take Stew’s 2008 relic “Passing Strange,” for instance — as long as the protagonist has a personal story we can sink our teeth into. Diamond — a Jewish man from humble beginnings, who cheats on his wife and writes songs on his guitar — does not. Or at least, we will never know if he does because McCarten refuses to get us any closer to the Solitary Man. 

Act 1 moves in and out of Diamond’s memories, set to a score of tunes he wrote. As the older songster and his Doctor scan the list of musical hits, scenes unfurl starring a younger Neil (Will Swenson) that rewind to when those hits were birthed: ”I’m a Believer” when Diamond first pitches himself to record producer Ellie Greenwich (Bri Sudia), “Love on the Rocks” when he and first wife Jaye Posner (Jessie Fisher) dissolve their marriage, “Sweet Caroline” when Diamond glimpses the name on a magazine in a shitty, Memphis Motel room. Mayer postures young Diamond as an anxious savant of song — the kind of man who’d rather let his guitar do the talking. When Swenson does speak, it matches the real Diamond’s signature grovel. But in pursuit of that mimicry, Mayer’s direction abandons suspense, drama or even chemistry between Swenson and other actors. It makes for an honest portrayal, but a tragically uninteresting performance.

Act 2 briefly relinquishes the recollective back-and-forth and parades through more of Diamond’s catalog, concert-style. Clad in Emilio Sosa’s predictable, sequin-laced costumes, Swenson confidently bellows out the hits. A bodily diverse shoal of ensemblists — a delightful rarity on Broadway — strut, snap and swirl behind him in a flurry of distracting, high-octane choreography by Steven Hoggett. As Diamond grows in world-wide acclaim, so does the wedge between him and second wife, Marcia Murphey (Robyn Hurder), who just wants her husband home. The beautiful noise he made of his life warps into “a beautiful monster.”

Admittedly, there are people more versed in Diamond to write about the story playing out on the Broadhurst Theatre’s stage. I run up against age and culture barriers to his star power; “Sweet Caroline” coming on at a party is usually my cue to leave it. But when personal connection is absent, powerful storytelling ought to stand in. I still have faith that there is a more interesting story bubbling under the surface of “A Beautiful Noise.” At one point, Diamond reveals that the mobsters who owned the first record company he regrettably signed with threatened to kill him. They even bombed The Bitter End — a tiny venue early-career Diamond frequented — in an attempt to back that threat with blood. In another scene, we see hints at a childhood home filled with shame and anxiety by overworked and overstrung Jewish parents. 

Unexplored holes like these riddle the script, which is desperate for more of Diamond’s insides, but “A Beautiful Noise” is a bio-musical that has forgotten the first half of its form. When done most successfully, the genre reveals something new about its subject, rather than simply regurgitating life events. Instead, this lackluster pseudo-memoir wagers on nostalgia and a charming frontman to keep the good times feeling good. Ultimately, it’s a losing bet.

“A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical” opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on Dec. 4, 2022.

Review photo: Julieta Cervantes.

Creative: Book by Anthony McCarten; Music by Neil Diamond; Lyrics by Neil Diamond; Directed by Michael Mayer; Choreographed by Steven Hoggett; Music arranged by Sonny Paladino; Incidental music by Brian Usifer; Dance music arrangements by Brian Usifer; Vocal design by AnnMarie Milazzo; Music orchestrated by Bob Gaudio, Sonny Paladino and Brian Usifer; Music supervisor: Sonny Paladino; Scenic Design by David Rockwell; Costume Design by Emilio Sosa; Lighting Design by Kevin Adams; Sound Design by Jessica Paz; Hair and Wig Design by Luc Verschueren; Properties Design by Kathy Fabian. General manager: Ryan Conway and Architect Theatrical; Production stage manager: Bonnie Panson; Casting by Jim Carnahan.

Produced by Ken Davenport and Bob Gaudio.

Cast: Will Swenson, Mark Jacoby, Robyn Hurder and Linda Powell; Jessie Fisher, Michael McCormick, Tom Alan Robbins and Bri Sudia; Neal Benari, Jordan Dobson, Ninako Donville, Paige Faure, Nick Fradiani, Kalonjee Gallimore, Samantha Gershman, Becky Gulsvig, Alex Hairston, Makai Hernandez, Jess LeProtto, Tatiana Lofton, Aaron James McKenzie, Mary Page Nance, Pascal Pastrana, Robert Pendilla, Max Sangerman, MiMi Scardulla and Brinie Wallace.