HomeBensalem Times‘So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience’ coming to Bucks in August

‘So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience’ coming to Bucks in August

The tribute show, put together by longtime fan Robert Neary, is part of the William Penn Bank Summer Music Fest

Coming to America: Robert Neary put together ‘So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience’ after his lengthy acting career began to slow down. Submitted Photo

Robert Neary vividly remembers the first time he experienced the music of Neil Diamond. It was the ‘70s, and a young Neary heard his older brother — an avid record collector — playing something that sounded intriguing. It was Diamond’s 1972 album Moods, and Neary was instantly hooked. 

“I started listening to all of the Neil Diamond albums that my brother had,” Neary told The Times. “By the time The Jazz Singer came out [in 1980], I was a full-blown fan. I listened to that album every single day.”

Never in Neary’s wildest dreams did he imagine a career revolving around his lifelong favorite artist. But for the past several years, that’s been his exciting reality. At venues across the country, Neary dons his prized sequinned jacket and performs Diamond’s greatest hits through his tribute show So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience, which is part of Bristol Riverside Theatre’s William Penn Bank Summer Music Fest, Aug. 7-11.

Over the course of the 90-minute show, audiences will hear approximately 20 of Diamond’s most beloved songs, all performed exactly how he used to at his concerts. The only exception is “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which Neary puts an acoustic spin on. 

Additionally, show-goers will hear little-known stories behind each song’s creation. When putting the show together, Neary conducted in-depth research on Diamond, reading an authorized autobiography and learning what was going on in the musician’s life when he penned these beloved tracks. For example, many might not be aware that, when he wrote “I Am… I Said,” he was in the throes of a four-year depression. 

The idea for So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience came to Neary in 2019, mere months before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For years, this Long Island, New York native worked as a successful actor, both on stage and screen, guest starring on shows like Sons of Anarchy and Criminal Minds, and appearing on Broadway in A Bronx Tale: The Musical and Smokey Joe’s Cafe

But that year, Neary noticed a shift. He was getting fewer auditions, and securing steady, paid work became difficult. 

“I decided, ‘OK, I need to reinvent myself,’” he said.

At the time, early discussions were taking place surrounding the Diamond-inspired jukebox musical A Beautiful Noise, but nothing was concrete just yet. Still, the idea of combining his love of Diamond with the stage inspired Neary, who shared these thoughts with his wife and brother, the latter of whom suggested he put together his own show. 

Neary knew that he could … and he did.

Quickly, he joined forces with The Mystic, a Long Island-based band of over 20 years who Neary knew was the perfect fit for his vision. They began practicing and perfecting Diamond’s sound, and had their first two shows booked for March 2020. Of course, those didn’t happen as planned due to shutdowns. But this hurdle didn’t slow their momentum in the slightest. Once things opened back up, So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience hit the road, and hasn’t stopped since.

“Now, we’re touring all over the country. We have 60 dates coming up, all through 2025. Live Nation’s promoting some of them,” said Neary. “It’s become sensational.” 

In fact, a concert film/documentary of the show, which was shot last year in front of 10,000 at an outdoor venue, is slated to hit Amazon Prime this fall.

When asked if he ever expected the show to become this big, Neary candidly responded, “I did. When I put it together, I had every expectation that this was gonna be one of the biggest and best tributes. My bandmates were amazed that everything I said was going to happen came to fruition. Also, this wasn’t just, ‘Oh, let me try this.’ This was something I needed. I had two kids going into college at the time, and I wasn’t getting called for auditions anymore. I put my all into this, and I’m happy and grateful that it’s everything that I wanted it to be and more.”

Much work went into bringing So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience to life, from poring over albums to compile the best setlist possible to ensuring such a show could legally be performed. Regarding song selection, Neary drew largely from Neil Diamond 50 – 50th Anniversary Collection, as well as other greatest hits albums. 

“They [the songs] just kind of fell into place as far as how they start,” he said, highlighting that the last 25 minutes are a rocking, upbeat tribute to Hot August Night. “It’s a real show.”

As for the legal end of things, Neary learned through a mutual friend of himself and Diamond’s wife, Katie McNeil Diamond, that there were no limitations, as long as he stressed that it’s a tribute show and made it clear to audiences that they weren’t seeing the real Grammy-winning artist. 

There were also no restrictions on Neary rocking his own version of Diamond’s iconic sequinned jacket. 

“Oh, the jacket makes it!,” he said, recalling how he found it at a mall during a shopping trip with his wife. “It’s the real deal. It’s not fake sequins or plastic, and is handmade from Turkey. But because I only bought one of them, it goes with me everywhere. It never gets put in checked luggage. It always goes with me, either in my guitar case or in my carry-on bag. I never give it to anybody. Any kind of handwashing I do, I do it by myself.” 

Just as Diamond’s fashion is timeless, so is his music, which currently spans several generations. At every show, Neary sees both original “Diamondheads” in the crowd, as well as young adults, teens and children, who were either introduced by their parents/grandparents or know the hits like “I’m A Believer,” heard in Shrek, and “Sweet Caroline.”

“If you listen, the lyrics, they’re happy. They feel good. It’s timeless for the people back then because he released songs every year, he played every year,” said Neary. “There’s not a song that people can’t relate to. It’s ageless.” 

Looking ahead, Neary is open to picking up the odd guest-starring role or commercial if he’s in town and has the availability, but acting is no longer his focus. Rather, his primary goal is to keep performing the songs that served as the soundtrack of his youth to fellow Diamondheads across the country, for as long as they’re still out there. 

Due to renovations at Bristol Riverside Theatre, So Good! The Neil Diamond Experience performances are taking place at the indoor, state-of-the-art theater at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, 6403 Mill Creek Road, Levittown. Visit brtstage.org/shows/neil-diamond/ for tickets and more information. 

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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