Brooklyn-born balladeer Neil Diamond has quite the story to tell and an incredible catalog of songs to go with it. Now that story will be told in a new, as-yet-untitled Broadway musical which will be directed by Tony award-winner Michael Mayer.
While similar era bio-musicals such as “Jersey Boys” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” have done well, other such productions have faltered, including recent musicals based on the lives of Cher, Donna Summer and Gloria Estefan.
What Diamond has going for him is a devoutly dedicated legion of fans who have followed his career for over half a century.
Acclaimed veteran music journalist, author and former Billboard magazine contributing editor Jim Bessman says that Diamond’s life is tailor-made for the stage.
“You’d think Neil Diamond would be perfect for Broadway. He’s one of the great pop hit singer-songwriters, going back to the same fabled 1960s Brill Building pop songwriting era in New York that spawned Carole King, so he’d appeal to the same audience that’s made ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ an award-winning and long-running Broadway hit,” said Bessman, who previously interviewed Diamond.
“And like King, Diamond’s career has also extended far beyond his initial ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll hits — which he wrote and recorded when he was a young man, and which were a big reason he eventually gained entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — to attain an adult pop sensibility that lifted him from a rock audience base to the mainstream and an arena concert touring attraction,” he added.
Diamond was born in Coney Island on Jan. 24, 1941. His father owned a dry goods business and the family lived in several Brooklyn neighborhoods throughout Diamond’s childhood.
He attended Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush, where he and Barbra Streisand sang in a choral group together, but did not know each other at the time. Years later, in 1978, they would team up to record the classic “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” which remains Diamond’s highest charting single.
As far as hits, the producers of the new show have quite a catalog to choose from. Diamond released 58 charting singles between 1966 and 1986, including 13 Top-10 hits and three that reached number one. Among those were now standards like “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “I Am…I Said,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Longfellow Serenade,” “Hello Serenade” and arguably his most popular hit, “Sweet Caroline,” which climbed to number four in 1969.
Diamond also wrote songs for other artists, including the Monkees’ Number One hit “I’m a Believer” and its Number Two follow-up “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.”
“Diamond has also written for the films ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ and ‘The Jazz Singer,’ so as he himself has adapted his music to fit theatrical formats, so too should it be adaptable to the stage,” explained Bessman.
“And topping it off, you have a creative team including writer Anthony McCarten, who wrote the screenplay for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ and fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Songwriters Hall of Famer Bob Gaudio, who wrote many of the Four Seasons’ hits and was an original member of the group, as well as the catalyst behind ‘Jersey Boys,’” Bessman continued.
“Gaudio is also a huge fan of Diamond, and presented him with the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s most prestigious honor, the Johnny Mercer Award, two years ago at the organization’s annual awards ceremony,” Bessman added.
Diamond’s Brooklyn roots should factor into the new production. His most autobiographical ballad, “Brooklyn Roads,” is the quintessential song about a young boy growing up in the borough.
In the song, Diamond nostalgically closes his eyes and dreams himself back to his childhood, growing up with his brother “two floors above the butcher.”
We can smell the “cookin’ in the hallway,” he sings, and the poetic and poignant imagery only adds to this masterpiece of American songwriting. Diamond has called this his most literal and personal composition about his childhood aspirations, and there is no doubt he knows those Brooklyn roads well. This song epitomizes why Diamond remains one of the most admired songwriters of his generation.
Having sold more than 115 million records worldwide, Diamond retired from performing last year after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The musical’s release date has yet to be announced.
“It would seem that Diamond’s music could easily fuel a successful Broadway musical, what with such key people involved who can turn his life as a Brooklyn boy who became one of the great pop tunesmiths into an entertaining context for the songs,” said Bessman.
“No doubt theater-goers will leave singing “Sweet Caroline,” he added.