Make no mistake: “A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Story” – in its pre-Broadway tryout at the Emerson Colonial Theatre – is no jukebox musical. As Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”) recently told the Journal, “We’re not re-creating. It’s a celebration of his music.” Calling “A Beautiful Noise” a “very emotional show,” he explained, “It’s the journey of a man all through his life.”
That journey, Mayer submitted, is “a very organic process.” Book author Anthony McCarten (an Academy Award-nominated writer), has focused on making the show a very personal one. “Basically,” Mayer noted, “the whole show takes place in [Diamond’s] mind. It’s more abstract.” With the now 81-year-old Brooklyn Jewish singer-songwriter’s feelings in mind, there were long interviews with him, some on Zoom. “The concept is a man looking at his own life as opposed to a show business story,” Mayer stressed.
While no jukebox musical, the biographical musical “A Beautiful Noise” gives full attention to Diamond’s music (“The songs have such staying power,” Mayer said). Expect to hear such iconic songs as “Solitary Man,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Red, Red Wine,” “Shiloh,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Love on the Rocks,” “September Morn” and “America.” No mere chronological musical, Mayer assured, the show will demonstrate Diamond’s “individual connections” to his wide-ranging repertoire.
“We go where the songs go,” he said. “The range is stylistic and emotional. That is our number one agenda – looking at the connections in a sophisticated, elegant and artful way.”
At the same time, the musical deals with the enduring performer’s ups and downs along the way. “He was a struggling songwriter,” Mayer said. “He suffered from a lot of depression. Sometimes he focused on the music at the expense of family and friends.”
McCarten’s book – which stretches from the 1960s to his performing retirement (he continues to compose and record) – will cover Diamond’s work at the renowned Brill Building and with Bang Records and the impact of frequent collaborator Ellie Greenwich and other “people who have key emotional value.” Mayer (who received a camera as a bar mitzvah gift before he moved from film interest to theater focus) promised “a key moment” – “something clearly rooted in his [Diamond’s] Jewish heritage. As an American Jew, it resonates for me.”
Also likely to resonate, according to Mayer, is the show’s universal message about self-examination. “It’s about who are you? How do you recognize yourself?”
Collaborating on this personal-universal show are other major theater makers besides Mayer. Bob Gaudio, Four Seasons singer-songwriter (of “Jersey Boys” fame), produced six of Diamond’s albums and such movie soundtracks as “The Jazz Singer.” Gaudio, a longtime friend of Diamond’s, shares production with Ken Davenport and orchestrations with Sonny Paladino and Brian Usifer. Olivier Award winner Steven Hoggett is creating the show’s choreography (which Mayer described as “very organic and very expressive”). Tony Award nominee Will Swenson will play Diamond – then, and Tony nominee Mark Jacoby will play Diamond – now. Jessie Fisher will portray Diamond’s first wife Jayne Posner, and Tony nominee Robyn Hurder will portray second wife Marcia Murphey. (Third wife Katie McNeil “has been very involved in the production.”). IRNE Award nominee Linda Powell portrays Doctor. Tom Alan Robbins plays Diamond’s father Kieve (Akiva) and Bri Sudia plays his mother Rose as well as Ellie Greenwich.
As for the ensemble players, Mayer noted, “They are the beautiful noise (the title, of course, taken from one of Diamond’s albums). They embody the music.”
“A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Story,” pre-Broadway tryout at Emerson Colonial Theatre, through July 31. 617-824-8400 and emersoncolonialtheatre.org