Robert Neary and members of So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience talk about what Diamond's music means to them.  Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Musicians impact people in many ways. They can dazzle crowds, provide escapism entertainment for the moment or even bring out internal joy through their different forms of expression. But it takes a special performer who can possess all those qualities while making a deep connection to the listener by simply using their vocal tone and written words. Neil Diamond is such an artist.

“Neil Diamond is the Elvis of my time,” says Bonnie Lafferty, 58, of Massapequa Park, who grew up listening to him in her house. “He gives me general joy when I have his music on. Plus, he’s a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn. You can’t ask for anything better!”

MOVE TO MUSICAL 

Will Swenson as ‘Neil Diamond in "A Beautiful Noise."

Will Swenson as ‘Neil Diamond in "A Beautiful Noise." Credit: Julieta Cervantes

On Dec. 4, a new show will open on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre called “A Beautiful Noise, the Neil Diamond Musical” that goes beyond the jukebox genre and ventures into biography territory peppered with hits and enthusiasm.

A BEAUTIFUL NOISE, THE NEIL DIAMOND MUSICAL

WHEN/WHERE Tuesdays: 7 p.m., Wednesdays: 2 and 8 p.m., Thursdays: 7 p.m., Fridays: 8 p.m., Saturdays: 2 & 8 p.m. and Sundays: 3 p.m.; Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th Street, New York

INFO 212-239-6200abeautifulnoisethemusical.com

ADMISSION $84.50-$318.50

“People show up with their nostalgia and love for Neil already intact. They are ready to love the show before we even sing a note,” says actor Will Swenson, who portrays the young Neil Diamond. “From the beginning, they are all on board. Because Neil can’t perform anymore, for a lot of people this might be their way to connect to him.”

In 2018, Diamond, who turns 82 in January, retired from touring due to health conditions and has been out of the spotlight since. 

“The idea of a Broadway musical about my life has always been a daunting one. It wasn’t until the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease prematurely ended my touring career that I started to seriously consider the prospect,” says Diamond in a letter printed inside the Playbill. “I say ‘prematurely’ because my heart and soul would tour until the day I die if only my body would cooperate.”

The show is framed by therapy sessions of an older, retired Neil Diamond, played by Mark Jacoby, who is guarded at first, but the therapist (Linda Powell) helps him look back at his past for answers via his music. 

“At first Neil has no desire to do therapy. But in the course of it, he starts to sense that it might help him,” says Jacoby. “Something in his subconscious perception tells him there’s value there and keeps him in the room.”

DIAMOND FANS ARE FOREVER

Nick Damadeo, 69, of Northport holds up his 2008 Neil...

Nick Damadeo, 69, of Northport holds up his 2008 Neil Diamond tour program. Credit: June Damadeo

Diamond has a deep connection with his fans through his music, which many take in personally because of the emotion he puts behind it.

“A lot of his songs are very soulful,” says Gemma Lopresti, 57, of Melville. “They remind you of your own humanity.”

Nick Damadeo, 69, of Northport adds, “The reason Neil Diamond’s music endures is because he touches so many different emotional nerves. Whether it be sadness, joy or love, he’s got a song for it.”

In addition to the songs, Diamond is also known for his unique delivery with deep, rich vocals wrapped in a powerful New York accent.

“Neil’s voice is very smooth and welcoming,” says JoAnn Hocker, 73, formerly of Bohemia. “When he sings, you feel like he’s singing directly to you.”

Debra Robert, 55, of Oakdale adds, “Neil delivers his songs with a lot of integrity and honesty. It’s clear that his songs are made up of who he is. That’s rare today, in fact, it’s almost a lost art.”

In fact, Robert bonded with Diamond through sharing a religion, which comforted her growing up.

“I was one of very few Jewish kids in my neighborhood. I always felt a little shy about it,” she says. “Having this Jewish superstar that hit a spark with people was important to me. Neil Diamond helped me have more pride in who I was and not feel so alone.”

STIRRING SONGS

 Neil Diamond performs  at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008.



	 

 Neil Diamond performs  at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008.

Credit: Getty Images/Matt Cardy

The song “America,” which stems from Diamond’s 1980 album, “The Jazz Singer,” is a collective favorite among Diamond fans, not only for its patriotism but its passion as well.

“America is an extremely powerful song with words that are very stirring,” says Karen Schwartz, 62, of Great Neck. “My grandparents came over from Russia and took big risks by coming to this country to give their family a better life. Because of that, this song really resonates with me.”

Jodi Kahn, 60, former Great Neck resident, went to see Diamond perform as the first show at Madison Square Garden after 9/11 in October 2001 and clearly remembers the moment he took the stage.

“He opened with ‘America’ and when the flag came down people were crying,” she says. “It was so moving.”

When it comes to Diamond classics, nothing brings a crowd together like “Sweet Caroline.” The song hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts in 1969, however since that time it has become a crowd-stirring anthem around the globe.

Honoree Neil Diamond performs onstage during the Songwriters Hall of...

Honoree Neil Diamond performs onstage during the Songwriters Hall of Fame 49th Annual Induction and Awards Dinner in 2018 in New York City.  Credit: Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame/Larry Busacca

“Wherever you are, if that song plays, everyone gets out of their seat and goes crazy,” says Stacy Hendricks Cwiakala, 50, who grew up in Middle Island. “It’s almost like the song collectively gives everyone a shot of energy.”

Jean Lagattuta, 55, of East Meadow adds, “Everyone knows the lyrics and whether you have a voice or not, you’re singing along. There’s something about that song that allows you to be free.”

BRUSHES WITH NEIL

Ellen Robertson, 74, of Mount Sinai's license plate on her...

Ellen Robertson, 74, of Mount Sinai's license plate on her Lexus reads, "SOGOOD3X." Credit: Ellen Robertson

Throughout the decades fans who have had encounters with Diamond tend to walk away telling friends and family a heartfelt story about the singer/songwriter. When Ellen Robertson, 74, of Mount Sinai went to San Jose to see the singer in concert, she discovered he was staying at the same hotel as her and staked out the lobby to meet him.

“When I told him was from Long Island, he said, ‘You came all that way just to see me? Thank you so much!’ Twenty minutes later he had his drummer send over a glass of wine and said, ‘Neil would like you to be his guest at his next show in Los Angeles,’ ” recalls Robertson. “Unfortunately, I was on vacation from work and had to get back home, so I had to turn him down.”

Back in 1967, Brenda Weingard Schloth, 73, who grew up in Commack, went to the Huntington Go-Go Club to see Diamond perform and when she watched the show at the edge of the stage, a surprise occurred.

Brenda Weingard Schloth, 73, who grew up in Commack, displays...

Brenda Weingard Schloth, 73, who grew up in Commack, displays her Neil Diamond clock while wearing her Neil Diamond t-shirt. Credit: Jamie Smith

“When he sang, ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon’ he took my hand and brought me on stage. He sang the song and gave me a kiss,” she says. “I was totally mesmerized. It felt like I was in another world.”

Her friend Cheryl Frasca, 73, who grew up in East Northport, witnessed the entire event.

“After the show, Neil talked with us and he was the nicest guy. Brenda was in a complete trance,” recalls Frasca. “I remember Brenda called her parents directly from the club because she was so excited to tell them she met Neil Diamond.”

For her 40th birthday, Kahn’s husband Jonathan reached out to Diamond through various management channels to get an autographed photo of his wife’s favorite singer as a surprise. Not only did Diamond oblige, but he even personalized it for her.

“I still have it. He wrote ‘To Jodi, Happy Birthday! With love, Neil Diamond,’ ” says Kahn. “He’s our generation’s mensch!”

LIKE A DIAMOND

Growing up in East Meadow in the ‘60s, actor Robert Neary used to impersonate Elvis Presley as a kid in his living room for an audience of aunts and uncles. Today, the 57-year-old actor is selling out theaters along the East Coast portraying Neil Diamond in his tribute show, “So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience.”

“I’d go to auditions and people would tell me, ‘You sound just like Neil Diamond,’ ” says Neary, who even physically evokes Diamond with salt and pepper hair and dark eyebrows. “Every chance I got I’d sit at a piano and do ‘Hello Again.’ If I was at a bar and there was karaoke, I’d do ‘Sweet Caroline.’ ”

When Diamond retired from touring, Neary decided it was time to put a tribute show together.

“I studied every aspect of his performance from the first note to the very last,” says Neary. “Every song is different and they all reach somebody. People instantly identify with his music. The songs are just timeless.”

Jean Lagattuta, 55, of East Meadow recently saw Neary in the front row at the Landmark Theater in Port Washington and was impressed.

“Robert picks up on Neil’s mannerism and captures the experience. It brings you back to this nostalgic time in your life,” she says. “If you closed your eyes, you’d think you were listening to Neil Diamond.” 

Next up, Neary will be performing at the Argyle Theatre in Babylon on Jan. 13 and 14. For more information, visit: sogoodtheneildiamondexperience.com.   — DAVID J. CRIBLEZ

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