Review by Suzanne Tate
In Hamer Hall, at Melbourne’s Art Centre, Hugh Sheridan is bringing fans of Neil Diamond a real treat with Solitary Man. Supported by a full orchestra of extremely talented musicians, 2 backup singers, and a brief appearance by Naomi Price, Sheridan presents 25 of Diamond’s biggest hits in a show which is part tribute show and part a vehicle for Sheridan’s own significant musical talent.
Hugh Sheridan is the epitome of a ‘triple threat’. As a youth he performed with the State Opera of South Australia, studied music at the Victorian College of the Arts and dance at the Australian Ballet School. He went on to study a Bachelor of Dramatic Art at the National Institute of Dramatic Art and then became a familiar face on Australian TV as Ben Rafter in Channel 7s ‘Packed to the Rafters’, a role which resulted in huge popularity and 4 Logie awards. In 2020 Sheridan was cast as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but the show, and subsequently Sheridan, was ‘cancelled’ in response to anger about a trans actor not being cast in the lead role, a distessing event that he alluded to in last night’s show with a passing comment about not wanting to get ‘cancelled’ again. That incident caused much mental pain and suffering for Sheridan, but in his performance in Solitary Man he demonstrates his absolute joy in returning to the theatre and once again being in front of an audience that loved what he has to offer. Sheridan clearly has a great appreciation and respect for the work and talent of Neil Diamond, shown through his authentic performance of so many of Diamond’s greatest hits, and through the anecdotes he shares on stage.
Neil Diamond is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. He last performed in Australia in 2015, on his Melody Road tour. In 2018 he was due to tour Australia and New Zealand for his 50th Anniversary tour, but the tour was cancelled when Diamond was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and he announced his retirement from concert touring. I am not sure how many of the audience for Solitary Man were there to see Hugh Sheridan, and how many were there purely to see a Neil Diamond tribute show, but I suspect both groups left the concert very happy.
Sheridan’s performance presented a mix of extremely accurate homage to Neil Diamond’s performance style and other songs that sounded nothing like him, despite being sung in an authentic style. In his lower register Sheridan was able to sound exactly like Diamond, even down to a slight huskiness in the voice. But in the higher register, surprisingly, he sounds nothing like Diamond at all, a fact that could sometimes jolt the listener out of the illusion that we were listening to Neil Diamond himself. This in no way, however, made Sheridan’s performance any less enjoyable. Sheridan’s vocal performance was consistently strong (other than one minor slip up with an early entrance) and the musicians presented a consistently high performance standard. The audience were visibly (and audibly) enjoying themselves, with arms and phones swaying in the air, audience participation by singing along to Song Sung Blue and even dancing in the aisles on a number of occasions. Who says the older generation don’t know how to party? A personal highlight for me was Beautiful Noise, which is a favourite of mine, and sounded so much like Diamond!
Naomi Price also performed, singing Hello Again. While it was a beautiful performance, it was a shock to hear a female voice singing in the midst of such an authentic Neil Diamond experience. It seemed an odd decision to include one song by a female performer, until she was joined by Sheridan for the classic duet You don’t bring me flowers, which Diamond had recorded with Barbara Streisand. Vocally Price’s performance was stunning, but I felt sorry for her. Her dress was …. well, she described herself as feeling like a Christmas ham wrapped in foil, which while harsh, was fairly accurate regarding the foil aspect. Sheridan’s multiple outfits were also fairly flamboyant, but in keeping with the original time period and Neil Diamond’s sartorial style, for the most part.
Sheridan’s commentary between songs was warm, engaging, and quite informative. I grew up in a family of Neil Diamond fans, but I learned quite a bit last night. I didn’t know he was one of the stable of writers in the Brill Building, or that during that time he wrote I’m a Believer for the Monkees. It was so interesting to hear that well known Monkees’ hit performed in the style of Neil Diamond instead, and it gave a whole new meaning to the song. In some songs, I found Sheridan’s diction to be better than Diamond’s, and after a lifetime of believing Porcupine Pie had to be eaten ‘with love or your hand will turn green’ I now know that it is gloves that are the essential preventative measure. It also explained a lot to learn that it was written in 10 minutes as a Brill Building daily songwriting challenge!
The classic Neil Diamond hits from Hot August Night 1 and 2 are central to my childhood memories and I thoroughly enjoyed a night strolling and dancing down memory lane with Hugh Sheridan. If you are a Neil Diamond fan, you will love it! And if you aren’t a Diamond fan yet, Sheridan will still provide you with a joyful, energy filled evening of excellent music!