Neil Diamond Tribute Doesn’t Turn on the Ol’ Heart Light


Sadly, I cannot bring him flowers.

Nearly 20 years of cloaking himself in Neil Diamond’s sequined personality (and shirts) around Vegas and elsewhere validates that Rob Garrett’s got certain chops as a Diamond doppelgänger. Now they’re packaged as Neil Diamond—The Tribute at the Westgate’s Shimmer Cabaret.

But they don’t add up to a Diamond with the requisite sparkle.

Vocally, Garrett’s impersonation is eerily good, nailing the superstar’s signature gargle-with-gravel growl. (Is it singing? Talking? More like speaking in melody.) Plus, the jet-black helmet hair from Diamond’s hirsute heyday is a wiggy wonder.

What’s missing, if not technical proficiency and visual approximation? Something intangible—presence. Watching Garrett, I never saw Neil Diamond. I saw someone who could be Neil Diamond’s valet, re-threading his boss’ sequins. The original commands a stage. The imitator sort of wanders it.

Backed by his K.O.D Band (he bills himself “The King of Diamonds”), Garrett attempts the whole schmear. Many of Diamond’s marquee tunes are trotted out; he even refers to “my hits”—an affectation he abandons near show’s end.

Opening with “Desiree,” Garrett runs through “You Got to Me,” “Hello Again,” “Kentucky Woman,” “Cherry, Cherry,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “Holly Holy,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” the autobiographical (and vaguely silly) “I Am … I Said”—and, yes, “(Coming to) America.” Backup singer Rosanna Telford—who at other venues performed as Connie Francis opposite Garrett’s Diamond—steps forward to contribute the Babs Streisand end of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”

Through most of it, Garrett is a musically faithful but otherwise wan and sometimes awkward Diamond, never filling the bigness of the Diamond persona. Seeping through Garrett’s performance is a kind of sweetness that, while endearing, betrays Diamond’s baritone flamboyance. Even an abundance of flourish-y, Diamond-esque poses and gestures-—guitar thrust outward in a kind of phallic symbolism, fist pumping out the beats, arm waved high, finger aimed skyward—register as mannered, rather than genuine.

Coaxing a woman out of the crowd, he serenades her with “Play Me.” Audience encounters require both gentility to calm and encourage a volunteer, and a take-charge approach to guide the segment, but Garrett is tentative at best. Somehow, even a sing-along on “Sweet Caroline”—Diamond’s iconic, aural happy pill—had a lethargic undercurrent. Then, in an abrupt, stylistic U-turn, Garrett pummels “Love on the Rocks,” his overwrought interpretation outdoing even Diamond’s dramatics to further puncture the characterization.

On a gut level—where a tribute artist must transport us to transcend the fact that these shows are built on fakery—Neil Diamond never arrives in full. While sketching him decently—he looks and sounds the part—Garrett never paints a portrait with the emotional fullness that implies. And the latter is vital when an act shifts from performing scattered Legends in Concert-style numbers—as Garrett once did—to a stand-alone show.

In the strange, real-yet-unreal world of tribute artists—where, in fairness, our memories of our idols can far outstrip reasonable expectations for their imitators—there was no real Neil before me.

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