Carole King has had a huge hit with her Broadway musical, “Beautiful,” even though it may be winding down soon. King’s songs with Gerry Goffin, plus her own songs, and those of Cynthia Mann and Barry Weil, were sophisticated gems that writer Doug McGrath ably wove into the stories of the writers’ lives.
Now Neil Diamond is coming with his own musical, still untitled, although I’d name it “I’m a Believer” after the 1966 hit he wrote for the Monkees. Like King et al, Diamond came up through the “Brill Building” with publisher Donnie Kirshner, writing songs for pop groups until he found his own footing as a solo act.
Diamond modeled himself in concert on Elvis Presley, however, and created a bombastic stage presence bordering on Liberace (who I wrote about the other day). His song catalog is uneven, unlike King’s. Some of the songs are classic, some are hokum. The best are “Solitary Man,” “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” plus of course “Sweet Caroline,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Play Me,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Holly Holy,” and “Cracklin’ Rosie.”
But there’s a big basket of corny, too, that will be torture in a Broadway musical. “I Am…I Said” with its ridiculous lyrics (it’s sung to a chair, a la Clint Eastwood’s political convention speech). Diamond, unlike King, can be grating. His going to “America” is catchy but borders on jingoistic. “Longfellow Serenade” was a low point on the top 40.
Still, the dream of having the audience sing along to “Sweet Caroline” is too intoxicating for producers. That creative team includes writer Anthony McCarten, who wrote the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Tony-winner Ken Davenport and Bob Gaudio, founding member of The Four Seasons, will produce with Michael Mayer (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) set to direct. They will milk that song and the bombast, trust me, for everything they can.