REVIEW: ‘The Simon & Garfunkel Story’ a fitting tribute to the legendary duo
In an interview Nov. 5 previewing Wednesday night’s “The Simon Garfunkel Story” at the Byham Theatre, Pittsburgh, Taylor Bloom suggested the nationally touring show was “probably the next best thing to seeing them (Paul and Art) live.”
That’s because, added Bloom, who portrays Paul Simon, “Our approach to the show is so deeply rooted in their original tracks and imbued with their essence.”
It would be difficult to argue with Bloom’s “next best thing” observation after being part of the audience for the spirited performance yesterday that he and partner Ben Cooley, who has the Art Garfunkel role, delivered with their excellent, versatile four-piece band.
Billed as a multimedia experience, celebrating the music and life of arguably the greatest pop duo of our time, the two-hour-plus program was joyful opportunity to relive and, in some cases be part of for the first time, the brilliant artistry that defined an era.
Bloom assured that this is not a presentation that attempts to offer an impression or impersonation of Simon or Garfunkel, “but to fill our vocals with a certain styling and flavor that helps to capture the same sound as Simon and Garfunkel.”
Still, you could close your eyes, listen and easily convince yourself that, at times, it was the real Simon and Garfunkel on stage. Cooley’s frizzy hair and demeanor is reminiscent of Garfunkel as a young man.
Bloom, who probably looks more like Tom Cruise than Simon, still was wonderfully convincing in nailing Simon’s essence.
Large photos and videos illustrating the themes of the songs they rendered were projected on a screen behind them. The duo provided between-song narration on the times and the situations informing Simon’s compositions, as well as commentary on Simon and Garfunkel’s various career moves and successes through the years.
The repertoire was a welcome refresher for many veteran fans as Bloom and Cooley included such deep, deep cuts as “Hey School Girl,” Paul and Art’s first hit in the late 1950s as Tom and Jerry; “He Was My Brother,” Simon’s commentary on the murder of his friend, a Civil Rights volunteer, from the mid’60s’ “Wednesday, Morning 3 A.M.” album debut of the duo; “Richard Cory,” off 1966’s “The Sound of Silence” album, the story of the terrible fate of a man who seemed to have it all; the quirky, fun “Punky’s Dilemma,” from 1968’s “Bookends” album and “The Big, Bright Green Pleasure Machine” from 1966’s “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” album
The vocals were strong and the harmonizing lovely.
“Kathy’s Song,” with its heartfelt pledge of love expressed in Simon’s line, “The only truth I know is you,” was shimmering in its beauty. Juxtaposing the sweet vocals of “Scarborough Fair” against a backdrop of Vietnam War scenes, was an interesting and effective choice. “Homeward Bound” found the artists, with railroad tracks behind them, recounting a road weary singer’s need for some time off.
“America” offered a post card tour of the USA after the performers boarded that famous, fictional Greyhound in Pittsburgh, to the delight of a cheering audience.
Bloom and Cooley gave a touching rendering of “Old Friends,” which they opened with the original recording that Garfunkel taped of real senior citizens talking about life and aging.
The classics kept coming: “The Sound of Silence,” “Feelin’ Groovy,” with an audience clap-along; “Mrs. Robinson,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Cecilia,” “The Only Living Boy in New York” and, in “Bye, Bye Love,” a tribute to their musical mentors, the Everly Brothers. A nod to Simon and Garfunkel’s historic “Concert in Central Park,” shared with 500,000 of their friends, quickly turned upbeat with the band moving into high gear, including a tasty rendition of “Late in the Evening.”
Cooley earned enthusiastic applause with his delivery of “Bridge over Troubled Water.”
A memorable evening came to its conclusion with an on-the-mark “The Boxer,” Simon’s metaphor for his career, sung with the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop: “After changes upon changes. We are more or less the same.”
The standing ovation that followed brought a loud plea from the balcony: “Come back to Pittsburgh!”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.