The Bitter End – NYC – April 17, 2023
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
I’ve always had a passion for music, particularly the music of my youth. This music instantly turns back the hands of time and is attached to sentimental, joyful memories and nostalgic, heartwarming feelings. Growing up in the 70s, the incredible music of singer-songwriter Neil Diamond was woven into the fabric of my childhood. While the music occupied an integral place in my heart, it was never really on my mind to attend a Neil Diamond concert…..until it was too late. Neil Diamond was no longer touring. There are a handful of artists I truly regret having not had the opportunity to see live, especially now as a concert photographer, and Neil Diamond is one of them.
When the announcement was made about the Broadway opening of “A Beautiful Noise,” a show chronicling the life and music of Neil Diamond, I knew this time I wouldn’t allow the opportunity to hear Diamond’s music performed live slip away, even if it wasn’t performed by Diamond. This opportunity came for me on a Wednesday night in February 2023. On this evening I excitedly entered the Broadhurst Theater and was given a classic Broadway Playbill. Inside was a separate sheet of paper with a cast list for the evening’s performance, including alternate actors performing that evening. It’s often a sinking feeling for audience members to see this paper, as many come hoping to see particular lead actors. On this evening I came to the theater with no such expectations. I had no idea which actors had which roles and just was there to see and hear a great show. That sheet initially meant nothing to me. However, from the minute the “Neil – Then” actor entered the stage and began to sing I was blown away. How was it possible that this singer sounded almost identical to Diamond? It was spooky; I was intrigued.
During intermission I quickly grabbed my playbill and scanned the cast sheet to locate the name of the actor in the role of “Neil – Then” that evening. What I was shocked to discover was this singer/actor, Nick Fradiani, was actually the alternate. What a surprise, as Fradiani seemed to fill Diamond’s shoes and vocals to a T. I couldn’t conceive of any better. Upon reading Fradiani’s playbill bio, what was also surprising, but not surprising, based on the incredible vocals I’d just heard, was that Fradiani had won American Idol in 2015. I’d never really watched American Idol, nor read social media on the contestants until after the pandemic, when I learned a vocalist from my area was auditioning. That prompted me to watch the season’s auditions, and I’ve been an avid viewer ever since. However, other than the few who’ve gone on to stellar musical careers after Idol, I was not familiar with former contestants or winners. Having discovered this information about Fradiani, I was interested in learning more about his music and what he’d been working on since his win.
In 2016, Fradiani released his first album Hurricane, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and includes the bubbly pop single “All On You” and the sweet, airy duet “Love Is Blind.” For 2017’s “Where We Left Off,” Fradiani co-wrote and co-produced all six songs, creating an EP with more of an alternative sound, including the powerful angst-filled “Run Away,” the spirited anthem “We Live Forever,” and the smile-inducing, feel-good number “I’ll Wait for You.” In November 2022, Fradiani released his second full-length solo album Past My Past, continuing in the vein of emotion-filled, authentic numbers, including the sentimental passion of “What I Tell Myself,” the gripping intensity of “Empire,” the heart-felt power of “Never Gonna,” and the upbeat positivity of the album’s title song.
Listening to the range of Fradiani’s music I discovered an impressive musical artist separate from the Nick Fradiani who initially grabbed my attention on the Broadway stage. Fradiani took his earlier experiences as part of a local band (one that made it to AGT), transitioned to a solo artist who won American Idol, parlayed that success into creating and releasing his own music, and propelled himself into the world of musical theater, landing at the Broadhurst Theater. While Fradiani is currently performing as “Neil – Then” (as an alternate on Wednesday evenings) he also continues to create and perform his own music. Much to my surprise, I learned Fradiani would be playing at the iconic NYC venue, The Bitter End, the same beloved site where Neil Diamond first made his musical debut.
On April 17th I enthusiastically made my way to this intimate Greenwich Village locale for Fradiani’s performance. The small darkened venue was dimly lit by the magenta and lavender lights highlighting the brick wall behind the stage. The warm, intimate ambience was amplified by the closeness of the stage, just inches off the ground and within arms reach from the tables. An artist’s ability to connect to the audience is essential to their overall success. This environment was perfect for Fradiani to share his music and build a connection, as he emerged onstage and comfortably communicated with the crowd. Accompanying Fradiani on stage was his father Nick Fradiani Sr. on keyboards (himself a seasoned performer), as well as Eric Donnelly on guitar.
Throughout the hour and a half set Fradiani performed songs from each of his album releases, showing the range of his vocal abilities. It’s incredibly impressive that while Fradiani has the uncanny ability to vocally recreate the sound of the iconic Neil Diamond, he’s simultaneously able to express his individuality through his songwriting and his unique voice. During the performance Fradiani’s girlfriend, Lauren Celentano, herself a Broadway performer, joined him onstage for a beautiful duet, showcasing a voice with incredible warmth and passion. Fradiani also invited up fellow singer Joey Trombino, who impressed with his powerful vocal abilities. Whether performing or speaking with the crowd, Fradiani presented with warmth and humbleness, the demeanor of someone who’s appreciated the opportunities he’s had on his artistic journey.
After “discovering” Nick Fradiani at the Broadhurst Theater, I’ve been thrilled to learn that his talents are impressive well-beyond his incredible ability to embody the sound of Neil Diamond…though incredible it is! Any fan of Neil Diamond will be captivated by Fradiani at a Wednesday night performance of “A Beautiful Noise.” And, any Fradiani fan will be enthralled by a live performance by this incredible pop, alternative, rock artist….returning to The Bitter End on May 15th!