Tweetingit: 4* Dust off your best karaoke voice for a good old sing song; but more importantly, the celebration of a great modern songwriter.
So the great tribute bandwagon rolls on with A Beautiful Noise at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue. The title song was a top 20 hit for Neil Diamond, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. Such tribute is even more poignant now Diamond has retired from touring due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Longevity is rare in an industry that no longer cares for talent or innovation; only the next puppet on the production line.
Neil Diamond in contrast represents staying power; producing roughly an album each year since 1966, he has sold 100 million records worldwide. With a guitar over his shoulder, Diamond might have been a cut price Dylan, straddling folk and blues on his early recordings. However, a label switch in the early 70s produced a succession of classic pop songs including Cracklin’ Rosie, I am…I said and Sweet Caroline. All three are featured in this excellent show starring Fisher Stevens as Diamond.
Thankfully, there are no half-baked storylines clinging to the songs; it is treated as a conventional live set and is all the better for it. A back screen provides a brief biography of the singer’s life while Stevens chipped in with anecdotes. Every notable Neil Diamond song is covered including the ones that were hits for other artists. For example, I’m a believer and A little bit you, little bit me by the Monkees, The boat that I row; a hit for Lulu; and Red red wine a number one hit for UB40 in the 80s. One of my personal favourites checked in early; the dark, haunting Girl you’ll be a woman soon; so memorably covered on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
For all its inclusivity the show did carry a fair amount of padding. For example, the biog rightly made reference to Diamond’s time at the Brill Building in New York; the songwriting powerhouse that produced Carole King and Neil Sedaka among many others. But why feature a medley of songs by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (another product of the Brill Building)? Similarly, Woman in love was performed for no other reason than it’s a Barbara Streisand song; who duetted with Diamond on You don’t bring me flowers, which is more logically included in the set list. A glorious finale featured one of Diamond’s greatest creations, the anthemic America from the soundtrack of the Jazz Singer, his only film role.
The seven piece band and two backing singers provided solid support to Fisher Stevens, who effected a pretty decent impression of his subject. However, his carefully constructed New York accent quickly slipped into the ether. It might seem terribly unsporting to point this out, but he’d given up on it by Act II. One thing that didn’t slip was his hair, which didn’t move for two and a half hours; isn’t it amazing what some good hair product can do?
Neil Diamond is a songwriter and performer whose ear for a ballad made him housewife’s choice and a staple of the Radio 2 playlist. Popularity rarely goes unpunished and Diamond became another victim of rock intelligentsia. His induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 was long overdue. A Beautiful Noise is a thoroughly entertaining tribute that keeps you singing long after the show has finished. As Alan Partridge once said ‘You can keep Jesus Christ. That was Neil Diamond truly King of the Jews!’ Well not quite, but close enough.
Music Director: Mark Burton
Producers: Dave Mackay/Flying Music Company Limited
Booking Until: Touring nationally until November 2019