Growing up, Will Swenson couldn’t have escaped Neil Diamond even if he had tried.
The singer was everywhere — from the signed poster in the garage to the eight-track in his family’s van. Thanks to his father, Swenson knew just about every Diamond song, and by the time he was in eighth grade, the Utah native had learned that the ballad “Play Me” could be fairly effective in wooing girls.
“I used to sing it around the campfire. And then I started doing a Neil Diamond voice on top of it,” Swenson, a BYU and Cottonwood High graduate, told the Boston Globe.
Over the years, Swenson has gone from starring in Latter-day Saint-themed movies like “The Singles Ward” and “The R.M.” to making a name for himself on Broadway, performing in musicals like “110 in the Shade,” “Hair,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” “Les Miserables” and “Waitress.”
For all of his accomplishments, though, he’s long dreamed of bringing his love of Diamond to the stage.
“I’ve literally over time said to folks, including producers, ‘I’m just waiting for the Neil Diamond musical,’” Swenson recently told Broadway Direct.
At long last, that moment has arrived.
Will Swenson brings Neil Diamond to life on Broadway
Earlier this year, “A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical” had its official premiere in Boston, where singalongs to “Sweet Caroline” are an eighth-inning staple at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, the Deseret News previously reported.
Swenson took on the role of Diamond in the production, which explores how “a poor Jewish kid from Brooklyn become one of the most universally adored showmen of all time,” per Broadway World.
Now, Swenson will channel his inner Neil Diamond for a while longer: He’s bringing the role to life on Broadway. Previews for “A Beautiful Noise” just began on Nov. 2, and opening night is Dec. 4, according to Playbill.
Swenson can be seen singing Diamond’s hit song “Cracklin’ Rosie” in a behind-the-scenes video from a press release shared with the Deseret News. It’s clear from his sound that he’s brought his strong love of Diamond to the musical, but Swenson has also been adamant that he isn’t setting out to strictly impersonate the singer.
“Neil has a gravely, gritty sound. If you go for absolute imitation, you run into trouble,” he told The Patriot Ledger. “What we need to do is to honor his sound and honor his music.”
The original Broadway cast recording is now available on all streaming platforms, and will be released on CD Dec. 2, according to the news release.
What is ‘A Beautiful Noise’ on Broadway about?
Although “A Beautiful Noise” features several of Diamond’s biggest hits, it’s not “all singing and dancing and flashing lights,” the musical’s writer, Anthony McCarten, told the Boston Globe.
McCarten chose to center the production on some of Diamond’s therapy sessions from the 1970s — and he reportedly did hours of interviews with Diamond to develop this concept, the Deseret News previously reported.
The opening scene of “A Beautiful Noise” shows Diamond struggling to make progress in therapy, leading his therapist to pull out his songbook in an effort to encourage him to open up, according to the Boston Globe.
“I wanted it to be about something, and Neil, to his great credit, was not afraid to go there,” McCarten told the Boston Globe. “My job is not to flatter. It’s to get to the bottom of something. And Neil was happy for me to ask the questions, and he was nothing but honest in his responses.
“That’s what made him an extraordinary artist,” he continued. “If you examine his songs, even though they were pop tunes, there’s a lot of depth and self-inquiry in them.”
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Broadway since opening up after an 18-month shutdown during the pandemic — “To Kill a Mockingbird” got shelved earlier this year, and “The Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest-running show, closes early next year, the Deseret News reported.
But amid the uncertainty, Swenson seems to simply be enjoying every single moment he’s able to sing the songs that have meant so much to him since his childhood.
“It is a dream. It seems bizarre,” he told Broadway Direct. “It’s one of those things where you think, ‘Does manifesting stuff into the universe really work?’ Because I think this time it worked.”