A NEIL DIAMOND FAN REVIEW: NASREEN AHMED
Far... Oh! I travelled so far
With the single hope
To see a shining star....
And as I’m writing here on this site, that “shining star” could only have been the great Neil Diamond. June 21 was the opening night of A Beautiful Noise Musical at the most beautiful venue I have seen. This has been corroborated by the Tony Award winning director of the show, Michael Mayers, who has apparently stated that when he leaves this world, he would want to do so from that stage facing the wonderful auditorium in front of him.
Well, I’m not surprised. The Colonial Emerson Theatre in Boston is in one word, spectacular, and absolutely deserves a mention. My excitement was that of a child at Christmas present time as I approached and entered this amazingly ornate and artistic theatre, a suitable one for someone as grand as Neil Diamond himself.
Not that he was performing. The show was a musical based on his life, performed by others. We had two versions of Neil, one older as he is now (played fabulously by Mark Jacoby) and the other a younger Neil from his heyday (also played fabulously by Will Swenson). It opened with the older Neil responding to questions about his songwriting and his past by a doctor/therapist (Linda Powell). His refusal to talk about ‘I Am I Said’, an early indication in the show that Neil is a very private individual, reluctant to talk about very personal things. While audiences have been rightly gushing about Will Swenson’s portrayal of the younger Neil, I really did also love Mark’s portrayal of the current Neil - and find myself wondering why people are not equally gushing about him. He had it down pat with his posture and movements, looking much like Neil. His terse manner of responding to the interviewer was amusing and quite endearing.
Interspersed with the interview were flashbacks to Neil’s younger days, with scenes including his parents as well as Jayne Posner, his high school sweetheart and first wife. I thought they all did a pretty good job of their different roles. The costumes too were quite realistic, and of course I mostly noticed Neil’s - the tight straight pants of the 60’s and shorter jackets he wore, the slightly shabby look which he must have had at the time as a struggling songwriter. As the play progressed, and he became Neil Diamond, the successful singer-songwriter and stage performer, of course the famous shiny shirts came in. In fact, as I think of it now, the sets also changed progressively to a much brighter aspect, reaching its peak in the spellbinding last scene with Will in the splendid white glittering studded suit.
Marcia, Neil’s second wife of 25 years, an obviously important person in his life (played by Robyn Hurder, a 2020 Tony Award nominee for her role of Nini in Moulin Rouge) – left me curious. I don’t know much about Marcia, in fact, not many people do as she is apparently a private person – but I felt that the portrayal might not have been completely accurate. Robyn looked good of course and is an awesome dancer. I just missed the chemistry that Neil and Marcia must have had at least at the beginning of their relationship. This is where I felt that the treatment possibly needed a mature and sensitive possibly female hand, someone who understands the essence of who Neil the man is or was - an intensely romantic and sensitive person. Somehow, for me that didn’t quite come through.
The production was excellent. The fast movement of the show, the band who did such a wonderful job, the costumes and hairstyles, all praiseworthy. But most of all, it was impressive that there was so much inclusiveness in the cast; it was heartening to see cast members of all ages, body sizes and skin colours, and each one so magnificent with truly admirable dancing skills, which young and old could equally relate and respond to.
Will Swenson sang very well indeed – how easy could it after all have been for him to try and fill the shoes of none other than one whose voice is a gift from God and cannot be imitated. But Will’s specialty was his genuine effort and the respect for Neil that oozed from him in every scene. Will is sweet, modest, and wonderful as Neil. Some of the most iconic songs were included in the show, ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, ‘Love on the Rocks’, ‘America’ and so many others. Will did an excellent job of it all.
A word here about Mark’s ability to sing quite marvellously too, as I’m not sure if people have mentioned it much anywhere. I felt surprised when, suddenly losing his inhibition towards the later part of the show, Mark (i.e. Neil) powerfully belts out his rendition of the most personal song of Neil ‘I Am I Said’. My companions and I were so very impressed, we thought he did the most amazing job!
However, the highlight as we all must know was of course the most iconic song of them all, ‘Sweet Caroline’. In that last scene, the audience joined in, and it was a euphoric experience for everyone. A word of praise must go here to the lighting people because it was quite mind-blowing to see those blazing lights on stage, turning night into day, and in one shot, causing the audience to rise from their seats and join in the singing and dancing.
All in all, it was an extremely good and fun show, excellently presented and sincerely executed. I find myself feeling a bit mean (without meaning to be, if you know what I mean – heavens, totally unintended pun! 😊 when I say that I might not call it GREAT. Because I missed something. Maybe it comes from the prejudice I feel, maybe it’s just that I missed Neil on stage. I wanted to feel a bit more moved internally.
And I did – it was just not the show that did it, but something else, much more momentous.
The crowd went wild when Neil and and his loving golden-haired wife Katie arrived prior to the commencement of the show. Members of the audience flocked towards him during the intermission. For this fan, who had travelled all the way over the vast Pacific Ocean and across the United States from the west to the east side of the land.... well, when Neil Diamond came in.... time froze and the world absolutely stood still.... for a good many moments.
P.S. I want to say a sincere and deeply grateful Thank You to my dear brother and sister-in-law who live in the US, and despite their extremely busy work schedule, accompanied me to Boston organising our stay there (even before I arrived in the US), in a hotel just five minutes’ walk to the venue. But of course, they really enjoyed the show too! - Nasreen