A Beautiful Noise
Reviewed – 11th February 2019
“A consummate showman, he has the relaxed stage presence that wins us over from the start”
‘Legendary’ is one of those words that has lost its meaning in modern life, and I flinch inwardly whenever I hear a living person described as a legend. Besides, by definition, a legend is unverifiable; handed down over the years and eventually accepted as truth. There! That’s my only gripe out of the way. But whilst describing Neil Diamond as a legend is open to question, what is definitely and objectively accepted as truth is his talent as a writer and performer, and his importance as an artist in today’s popular culture. And Fisher Stevens is the entertainer to bring home that fact in this outstanding celebration of Diamond’s career.
It is almost exactly a year since Neil Diamond announced his retirement having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease: a sad and poignant reality that infuses the evening with extra emotional punch. Diamond himself continues to write and record, but in his stage absence his devoted fans can find solace in “A Beautiful Noise” at the Lyric Theatre.
It begins at the beginning, charting Diamond’s time cooped up in New York’s ‘Brill Building’, home to the likes of Leiber and Stoller, Carole King, Burt Bacharach and other now household names in song writing. His success as a songwriter preceded his success as a singer, notching up hits for Elvis Presley, the Monkees, Cliff Richard, Lulu and even the hard-rockers; Deep Purple.
“If I close my eyes…” sings Stevens in the opening number; ‘Brooklyn Roads’. The pertinence is not lost on the audience; if we close our eyes it is conceivable that we are witnessing Diamond’s miraculous return to the stage, such is the near perfect replication of the vocal timbre and nuances. Stevens’ rich, gravelly baritone even comes with a built-in pitch-bend that create Diamond’s distinctive downwards glissandos. He certainly hits all the right notes, but Stevens also manages to pitch his whole performance perfectly, eschewing sentimentality or idolatry for plain, down-to-earth entertainment. A consummate showman, he has the relaxed stage presence that wins us over from the start.
The classics are all there: ‘Beautiful Noise’, ‘Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon’, ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’, ‘I Am I Said’, ‘Kentucky Woman’, ‘Song Sung Blue’, ‘Hello Again’, ‘Coming To America’, ‘Desiree’, ‘Sweet Caroline’… and so on and so on. But we are also reminded of the many hits he penned for other singers. Backed by the strong, tight-knit band led by MD Mark Burton at the keys, a rich wall of sound is created, upon which hangs the tapestry of Diamond’s craft. A special mention must be made of the two backing singers, Samantha Palin and Rebecca Cole. Stevens generously brings them to the front line throughout and I’m sure it won’t be long before these two singers are headlining their own shows. Cole gives us a sassy solo performance of Lulu’s hit ‘The Boat That I Row’, but undoubtedly the highlight of the evening is Palin’s soaring rendition of Barbara Streisand’s ‘Woman In Love’, after which she dips sublimely into the duet ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’: a moment of pure musical theatre that dissolves any remaining residue of schmaltz that is often associated with the original.
Often derided by the critics, Neil Diamond has always risen above the flak. It never really bothered him, and it certainly doesn’t bother this audience of loyal fans who treat Fisher Stevens as the Diamond himself. As the show morphs into a fully-fledged rock gig during the second act, we are again reminded of the genre hopping dynamism of his live performances.
“Songs are life in eighty words or less” Neil Diamond once said. This show is his life in eighty minutes or more. A true celebration.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
A Beautiful Noise
Lyric Theatre – shows in June and July
Last ten shows covered by the reviewer: