This week, I witnessed the world premiere, pre-Broadway opening of THE NEIL DIAMOND MUSICAL: A BEAUTIFUL NOISE at the Colonial Theatre and immediately tweeted out:”Holly Holy Sh*t! The new Neil Diamond Musical is a hit!” I don’t know if Mr. Diamond would approve of that profane couplet, but it certainly captures my shock and awe at what I thought was going to be a ho hum evening at the theater. Not even close. The show is astounding with a stunner of a cast.¬† And the REAL NEIL made an appearance at the first preview of the show at the Colonial on Jun 22, 2022– to wild applause:

As one of the first critics to see this show before it hits Broadway– and it will hit, BIG– I was absolutely blown away within minutes by everything about it, from the brilliant concept and dazzling performances, to the ingenious choreography, sets, lighting, not to mention the man and his music– neither of which had made much of an impression on me before. I was not a big Neil Diamond fan. Never quite got that eighth inning anthem at Fenway. But this show tells his story and sets these songs in motion in a way that compelled and connected me to the artist, the moment, and everyone else in the theater.

The show begins in blackout with an announcer introducing the one and only NEIL DIAMOND!! Then suddenly, the energy collapses, all goes quiet, and there appear two chairs wide apart on stage facing each other; in one sits the graying, present-day Neil Diamond (Mark Jacoby), in the other sits his psychiatrist (Linda Powell), and between them is a big, blank canvas out of which will emerge his life, one of enormous success, underscored by anxiety and loneliness.

Diamond resists talking about himself and instead tells his doctor that everything he had to say he said in his music, whereupon she pulls out a big thick tome, his entire songbook– much to the amusement of the audience who are quite familiar with his giant oeuvre. She hands him the book, tells him to pick a song, and there they begin to unlock the man and his method.¬† What a concept for a musical! This brilliant book by Anthony McCarten, contextualizes Diamond’s huge catalogue of songs as a blueprint for his inner life, artistic process, and what comes alive onstage. That’s when the inspired choreography (Steven Hoggett) kicks in. As Diamond begins to read aloud from his lyrics, dancers materialize out of the darkness close behind him, giving shape to his memories, the rhythm of his recollections, the tempo of the times, as the younger man comes to life.

This younger “Diamond” in the rough (that’s two Neil Diamonds for the price of one!) is played by Will Swenson who¬† eventually brings the full Neil Diamond center stage, and then some. He’s got it all from the eyebrows to that voice: “a growl wrapped in velvet…” along with a smoldering, intense presence which absolutely electrifies and is downright sexy, a quality I never ascribed to the actual man. (Swenson’s wife Tony winner Audra McDonald was in the audience at the press opening, the night I saw the show.)

The entire cast dazzles, especially Robyn Hurder who as Diamond’s second wife Marcia is kinetically alive even when she’s sitting down; her solos, singing or dancing, left me breathless. Mark Jacoby married gravitas to tenderness as he brings the full weight of the iconic performer’s humanity to bear in a climactic moment of self revelation as the two Diamonds come face to face, in a stunning epiphany of spiritual and psychological insight about the self and the nature of existence.¬† The song that takes us to this shattering apotheosis? “I am… I said.” In that moment, everyone in the theater is alone… together.

It echoes another of the show’s most pivotal moments, when a young, shy Neil Diamond steps out from behind his role as a prolific songwriter, takes the stage, and finds his own voice as a performer for the first time. As he sings, this splendid ensemble –now the audience in a small club– slowly turns to Diamond as he delivers one of his best, the ironically titled “Solitary Man.”¬† Each dancer reacts individually with a different movement– an arm outstretched, a rising then falling back in a chair, each motion an emotion, a heart opening to this magnetic performer who’s up there wringing the humanity out of every single note, word, and person there, reminding them of their solitary place in a world together. It’s marvel of direction (Michael Mayer) and staging.

The scene is also a template for the entire show and its effect on us, the journey Diamond takes as a performer, a human being, a creative artist doing what artists do, digging in and connecting to themselves, which inevitably links them to the universal in all of us. A BEAUTIFUL NOISE expands the depth and breadth of what musical theater can achieve not only as an exhilarating¬† entertainment –and this show has all the glitz, glamor, sequins, songs, and stagecraft you could want from a show about Neil Diamond– but also as a profoundly uplifting and insightful communal experience amplifying the light shed by this uniquely gifted artist.¬† Here’s the standing ovation the show gets every night and the beloved “Sweet Caroline” sung to a Boston audience who of course knows the words by heart:

Try to see A BEAUTIFUL NOISE now at the Emerson Colonial Theatre while it’s still¬† in Boston because it may be hard to get a ticket later once the world gets wind of this magnificent show. Through Sunday, July 31. Tickets for the Boston run of A Beautiful Noise are now available at www.emersoncolonialtheatre.com.¬†

Broadway previews begin at the Broadhurst Theatre November 2. Get your tix fast!