A CurtainUp London Review
The Simon and Garfunkel Story
It was my daughter in law who introduced me to the songs of Paul Simon as a solo artist and we went together to see him at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016. Living through the sixties and early seventies, I knew of course the music of Simon and Garfunkel together and seeing the film of The Graduate which brought their pretty harmonisations into the pop charts. I remember having to go back to see The Graduate three times, as twice the cinema was made to close by the power cuts during a miners' strike. It would just get to tassel swinging time when Katherine Ross had tears running down her face and the projector would slowly grind to a halt and the lights went out. I had to ask someone else how the film ended and I remember them saying, it turns out he likes married women.
In the 1960s music was something I enjoyed on records (vinyls) and played at home rather than going to concerts, so when the opportunity arose to see The Simon and Garfunkel Story, I jumped at it. I was told that it was a fabulous show so I had high expectations.
The writer and current director Dean Elliott has a strong pedigree in tribute shows, having starred as Buddy Holly in the tremendously popular stage show, The Buddy Holly Story. He even opened and performed in the show in Buddy Holly's home town of Lubbock, Texas in front of, and with, Buddy's immediate family. It is people like Dean who raise the standard of the imitation of a tribute show to a near experience of being there and seeing the real thing.
The show opens to an absolutely perfect "The Sound of Silence". For the first half Paul Simon (Philip Murray Warson) plays the guitar and he and Art Garfunkel (Charles Blyth, a real look alike with perm, as well as sound alike for Art) accompanied by a drummer and two electric guitars. In the second half they are joined by a full brass ensemble for more power and fuller orchestration.
A backdrop of period black and white photographs tells us how Garfunkel and Simon met at school, placing them in the context of the changes to American history at that time. We see photographs of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, of the Kennedys and hear about how the two singers starred in a school play of Alice in Wonderland with Simon as the White Rabbit and Art as the Cheshire Cat. Their first singing collaboration was as the group "Tom and Jerry". Video reminds us of the start of rock and roll, the jive era and Elvis.
Their first album as Simon and Garfunkel was "Wednesday Morning at 3am" with just one guitar and two voices in harmony. We hear how Paul Simon came to the UK and wrote "Homeward Bound" in the railway station in Widnes, near Liverpool, while waiting for the early morning milk train back to London. He had an English girlfriend Kathy Chitty whom he had met in Essex and several of his songs have allusions to her like "Kathy's Song" and "America".
After "The Sound of Silence" album there is "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" and when the duo sing "Patterns", a lighting shift to magenta reminds us of the psychedelic age. The brass ensemble joins the band for the second half of the show with a long clip from The Graduate for which Paul Simon wrote five songs and arranged another, "Scarborough Fair".
!967 sees "The Summer of Love" and a brief recording of Scott Mackenzie's "San Francisco". As Simon and Garfunkel relentlessly tour, their friendship starts to fall apart. Art wants to pursue a career as an actor. Paul becomes a successful solo artist with his world music influences and "Graceland".
Chares Blyth performs a magnificent whistling song. The show closes without having heard "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and an encore is of course called for. We hear that their 1981 free concert in Central Park was attended by 500,000 making it the seventh largest audience of all time.
The visuals and the narrative of the pair's history in the middle of so much political change gives this show a satisfying dimension but where the folk rock music is paramount. The sound quality of The Simon and Garfunkel Story is superb, evocative and pure. The show puts their sound in the context of "The Everly Brothers", "The Beatles", "The Byrds" and Bob Dylan in an era of lasting and inspirational tunes.
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The Simon and Garfunkel Story
Written and directed by Dean Elliott
Starring: Philip Murray Warson and Charles Blyth
With, at certain performances: Sam O'Hanlon and Joe Sterling
Musicians: Adam Smith (Electric Guitar/Keyboards), Leon Camfield (Bass), Mat Swales (Drums).
Original Director: David Beck
Set and Costume Design: Dean Elliott
Video Design: Josh Woods (Feature Phonic Media)
Sound Design: Graham Penn and Chris Crowther (Electric Pulse) Productions
Lighting Design: Dean Elliott, Preece Killick
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office: Lyric 0330 333 4812
Box Office: Vaudeville: 0330 333 4814 (12th to 17th November 2018)
Booking to 10th December 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd July 2018 performances at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 7ES (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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