When Neil Diamond revealed to fans that he had Parkinson’s disease, another explosive announcement soon followed: he would be retiring from concert tours.
The news broke in 2018, after a remarkable 50-year career filled with hit after hit. Diamond reassured fans that while performing was difficult for him, he would remain active in other endeavors, including writing and recording, the Deseret News reported.
Which makes what happened a few days ago all the more special.
In a rare post-retirement appearance, Diamond showed up at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, to give a live performance of “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth inning – a long-standing tradition at the stadium. baseball.
It was the first time he had performed the song at the stadium since 2013, when the Red Sox played their first home game after the Boston Marathon bombing, Variety reported.
Wearing a Red Sox jacket, the 81-year-old continued his 1969 hit, sending Red Sox fans into a frenzied chant. Right next to him, singing and grinning from ear to ear, was Will Swenson, a Utah native and Broadway star.
And it’s a moment Swenson will never forget.
“I haven’t quite come down to earth yet. Wow,” Swenson shared on Twitter June 19. “Sir, it was the thrill of a lifetime to be asked to sing alongside you!”
The unique moment for Swenson comes as he takes on the role of Diamond in an all-new musical that is now premiering in Boston before hitting Broadway in the fall, Billboard reported.
And of all the musicals Swenson has sung in, this is probably the one he feels most confident about.
A Family Love by Neil Diamond
Swenson hasn’t always been confident when it comes to his vocals.
“His confidence in his singing isn’t as strong as it is in acting,” Swenson’s wife, Broadway superstar and six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, previously told Deseret. News. “He asks my opinion. It’s hard for me. I think he has a fantastic voice. He doesn’t feel safe about it; I would like him to just trust that his voice is good.
The irony is that the Utah native, who starred in Latter-day Saint-themed movies like “The Singles Ward” and “The RM” in the early 2000s, made a name for himself in the over the years performing in a range of Broadway musicals – including ‘110 in the Shade’, ‘Hair’, ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Waitress’.
But “A Beautiful Noise” is different – and Swenson has his dad, a die-hard Diamond fan, to thank for that.
Swenson grew up knowing just about every Diamond song. One of his earliest memories is listening to Diamond’s 1972 live album “Hot August Night” on the eight-track in his family’s van, according to the Boston Globe. In eighth grade, the actor learned Diamond’s ballad “Play Me” in an effort to woo girls.
“I used to sing it around the campfire. And then I started doing a Neil Diamond voice on top of that,” Swenson, a graduate of BYU and Cottonwood High, told the Boston Globe. “The other day, my best mate from high school said to me, ‘Will, you’ve been training for this role your whole life!'”
Broadway producer Ken Davenport had heard of Swenson’s Diamond impression and approached the actor to do a reading.
“I came in and I knew all the songs by heart, and I’m not even exaggerating,” Swenson told The Associated Press. “I had all of that in my DNA because it was so much part of my upbringing, constantly in the car and constantly at home.”
The minute Swenson landed the role, he called his father in Lehi, Utah, who congratulated him and immediately gave him some advice: “Make sure ‘Red, Red Wine’ is in this show,” according to The Patriot Ledger.
And while Swenson brings a solid love and knowledge of Diamond to the production, he’s adamant that he hasn’t set out to strictly impersonate the singer.
“Neil has a low, gritty sound. If you go for absolute imitation, you run into problems,” he told the Patriot Ledger. “What we need to do is honor his sound and honor his music.”
What is “A Beautiful Noise” about?
“A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical” explores Diamond’s rise to stardom, recounting how “a poor Jewish kid from Brooklyn became one of the most universally adored showmen of all time,” according to Broadway World. The musical features some of Diamond’s biggest hits, including “Sweet Caroline,” “America” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” according to the production’s website.
But according to Anthony McCarten, the musical’s writer, it’s not “all singing, dancing and turning on the lights”.
McCarten came up with the idea of centering the show on a series of 1970s Diamond therapy sessions — and he reportedly did hours of interviews with Diamond to develop that concept. In the opening scene of “A Beautiful Noise”, Diamond struggles to make progress in therapy, leading her therapist to pull out her songbook in an attempt to encourage her to open up.
“I wanted it to be about something, and Neil, to his great credit, wasn’t afraid to go for it,” McCarten told The Boston Globe. “My job is not to flatter. It’s getting to the bottom of something. And Neil was happy that I asked the questions, and he was nothing but honest in his answers.
“That’s what made him an extraordinary artist,” he continued. “If you look at his songs, even though they were pop tracks, there’s a lot of depth and introspection to them.”
When will ‘A Beautiful Noise’ premiere on Broadway?
“A Beautiful Noise” had its official premiere at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theater on June 21 and will run through July 31 before having its Broadway opening night on December 4, according to Theatermania.com.
And like fans at that recent Red Sox game, viewers were treated to a rare appearance from Diamond, who attended the show’s premiere, CBS Boston reported. Of course, the evening ended with an enthusiastic singing of “Sweet Caroline”.
It’s unclear if Swenson will continue the role of Diamond on Broadway, as Broadway casting will be announced at a later date, according to Broadwaynews.com. But as a lifelong Diamond fan, Swenson is enjoying every moment.
“If you want to talk about a surreal moment, try singing 30 Neil Diamond songs while playing Neil Diamond, 10 feet from Neil Diamond,” Swenson told The Associated Press. “It was the craziest, craziest experience of my life.”