Actor Jack Black once said Neil Diamond sings like “he’s getting ready to save the world.” Neil’s been getting ready for the past five decades, writing hit after undeniable hit, performing with more gusto and better style than any Superman. Now his universal fame will reach it’s super-powered peak. He’s flown gallantly across your stage, your television, your movie screen, and probably your heart. Now he’s coming in for a heroic landing on the Great White Way, in a newly announced biographical musical.
Move over, Freddie and Elton. There’s a humble genius with brooding eyes, ready to recapture our attention.
Readers, I suspect this will be the best biographical musical ever. More than that, it might literally save the world. Not just my world. (Although, I’ll admit to a certain amount of Diamond-obsessed delirium over the announcement). This musical has the power to save us all from ourselves. Move over, Freddie and Elton. There’s a humble genius with brooding eyes, ready to recapture our attention.
My boyfriend – I mean, Neil Diamond – was quoted in announcements, saying, “I’ve always loved Broadway. The inspiration for many of my early songs came from shows like West Side Story, My Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof, so it seems only fitting to bring my songs to the Great White Way.” Sounds like Neil’s almost as excited as I am and as you should be. You who are unfamiliar with Neil’s story may be wondering what the show this man’s life could make. People singing “Sweet Caroline” at a ballpark? Three hours of sparkly shirts and hip-swaying?
Deep inside the “poor Jewish kid,” a Broadway-worthy battle takes place between Diamond and his greatest adversary: himself.
To quote Rolling Stone, Neil Diamond’s bio-musical will “chronicle Diamond’s rise from a poor, Jewish kid in Brooklyn to one of the most acclaimed and successful singer-songwriters in the world. It will capture both the numerous setbacks and disappointments that marked his career, as well as the triumphs…”
As an author and a proud Diamond-head, I predict more than a “rise to fame” saga or a biographical outline from this musical. Book author Anthony McCarten, screenwriter of Bohemian Rhapsody, likely plans to craft a stage-adaptation of Diamond’s life that is similarly emotional and triumphant. However, representing Neil Diamond provides potential for so much more. Deep inside the “poor Jewish kid,” a Broadway-worthy battle takes place between Diamond and his greatest adversary: himself.
He was a lonely child with a tendency to dream. In the manner of a superhero or maybe a bird, little Neil longed to fly out the window of his Brooklyn home, “two floors above the butcher, first door on the right”. In spite of having a mother and father’s love, as well as the playful torment of a little brother, Neil’s mind was “always somewhere else”, leading to a lack of playmates and disappointing grades. Who among us can’t empathize with, or at least appreciate, hiding a report card or inventing an imaginary friend? Neil was an average kid with low self-esteem and undiscovered talent. The perfect beginning to a moving musical.
“I never really chose songwriting. It just absorbed me and became more and more important in my life as the years passed.”
Dynamic Diamond discovered his powers slowly. A little musical exposure and the need to express himself led to writing poems for the girls at Abraham Lincoln High School. Moving on to songwriting, Neil continued to dabble as a wordsmith, until the pastime became a passion. He dropped out of NYU and leapt on the opportunity to accept a job on Tin Pan Alley. After several months literally, and figuratively, trapped in a songwriter’s cubicle, Neil eventually struck out on his own. But it would take a long time for his talent to be recognized – by the biz, the critics, the listeners, and Neil himself.
The difference between introverted emo Neil and the guy in The Jazz Singer is as vast as the difference between Batman and Elvis.
One of the problems was performance. Neil was extremely self-conscious about appearing before his early audiences, and with good reason. His first time alone on stage started with an actual dive, when he tripped on an angry electric cable and face-planted in front of his audience. Neil was so intent on diverting attention from himself that he took to wearing black from head-to-toe, hoping to blend into the background.
This version of Neil is the polar opposite of the glittering Diamond his fans know. In fact, the difference between introverted emo Neil and the guy in The Jazz Singer is as vast as the difference between Batman and Elvis. What radioactive force brought about this change?
That’s where the musical comes in.
Neil’s bio-musical can shine a spotlight on the biggest conflict in the world – the inner conflict within every one of us.
I see little Neil singing alongside his early cowboy influences. Adolescent Neil falling for his high school sweetheart. Insecure, darkly clad Neil stuttering on American Bandstandwhen he’s finally heading to the top. And all the while, Shilo the imaginary friend comforts and guides him through his divorce, his life on the road, his next love, and his first stage appearance in an outfit of shimmering white.
That’s just what I predict and dream will happen. No story details have been uncovered. But we are guaranteed a score jam-packed with diverse sounds and cultural flavors. Neil’s Brooklyn life led to a range of musical influences from the delicate rattle of the Caribbean to the undulating passion of Hispania. And let’s not forget the rhythm and fiery spirituality of Neil’s love affair with gospel, pursued in his “African trilogy.” There’ll be instruments of blues, backwater, and brass crammed together in the orchestra, and music already scored to suit a mighty chorus.
The list of Neil Diamond songs that could and should be used in the show is too long to include in this article. Every time I try to make a mental list of all the classics, I give up. There are simply too many to remember. Through the power of a seemingly endless list of hits and great use of stage and story, Neil’s bio-musical can shine a spotlight on the biggest conflict in the world – the inner conflict within every one of us.
Neil Diamond. Broadway’s next great hero.
While this musical may bear similarities to Jersey Boys, Billy Elliot, maybe even Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, this will be a musical biography that speaks to the everyday person. To the woman too afraid to show her face in a crowd, the man living off of a few dollars and a dream, the lovelorn adult and the lonely child. This is a promise of reflection and self-realization, realized through the most pure and evocative music I have ever heard.
I pray that the man they cast as Neil Diamond is vocally and theatrically capable of filling those shoes. I hope the production is as simple and meaningful as every Neil Diamond song. And I admittedly want them to mention this mystery woman Neil fell in love with at a nightclub. I’m tempted to beg for insider details from McCarten, from director Michael Mayer, or maybe from producer and Four Seasons legend Bob Gaudio.
For now, let’s speculate and celebrate. Neil Diamond. Broadway’s next great hero.