Wednesday, December 04, 2019

What a Time It Was: No Lie La Lie, 'The Simon & Garfunkel Story' Deftly Pairs Harmony with Jubilation -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Simon & Garfunkel Story
Broadway Playhouse, Chicago
Thru December 8

As a theatrical production, The Simon & Garfunkel Story—presented locally under the auspices of Broadway in Chicago—is rather basic and lightweight.

It’s essentially a tribute concert, with some biographical information provided via onstage narration and accompanying video.

Although two performers—on Tuesday, George Clements and Andrew Wade, who share the roles with another pair—effectively represent Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel visually and vocally, they aren’t really acting, per se.

Though providing background and singing songs—Clements, the ersatz Simon, also plays guitar, backed by a 4-piece band—never do the pair refer to one another as Paul and Art; narration is in the third person.

In terms of narrative depth, this isn’t a jukebox musical on par with Jersey Boys, Beautiful or other prime examples.

Although it is selling quite well in Chicago, touring the U.S. and giving audiences worldwide a swell taste of one of the best catalogs in folk/rock history, The Simon & Garfunkel Story is seemingly devoid of the involvement or blessing of the real duo, whose likenesses are never seen in the videos. 

And while the songs are all well-performed, as a tribute show the endeavor is not nearly as thrilling
as seeing the real Simon & Garfunkel—as I did in 2003—or any other legendary live act.

So in direct comparison to other musical theater productions or rock concerts, my @@@@1/2 rating (out of 5) might seem a bit askew.

But not only did I enjoy every moment of the show due to the terrific music, I found the whole thing to be quite impressively put-together.

Clements and Wade looked and sounded convincingly like Simon and Garfunkel, handling the trademark harmonies exquisitely.

The backing musicians—guitarist Josh Vasquez, bassist Marc Encabo, drummer Bob Sale and keyboardist Alec Hamilton—were excellent, and demonstrably enthusiastic without ever coming too much to the fore.

Though the chronological information provided likely went no deeper than what can be found on Wikipedia, it was nicely composed—no writer is credited, though Dean Elliott is cited as both Show Director and Musical Supervisor—and provided some insights beyond my familiarity.

I didn’t realize that Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 debut album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. flopped upon release, prompting Simon to go off and tour England by himself, where he recorded a solo album.

Or that “The Sound of Silence” only became a #1 hit in late 1965 after—following latent interest kindled by DJs in Boston and Florida—album producer Tom Wilson remixed it with rock instrumentation (notably he had also worked with Bob Dylan on “Like a Rolling Stone”) without the awareness or initial approval of the duo.

Some light was also shed on Simon & Garfunkel’s breakup at the height of their popularity in 1970--I also didn't realize that Bridge Over Troubled Water sold more copies than any previous album, including by Elvis, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.--but nothing negative or untoward was shared or intimated about either man.

And as a fan who has always been most familiar with, literally, Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits (released in 1972)I greatly appreciated this show turning me onto—or expanding my awareness of—several songs that weren’t long ingrained in my memory.

Yes, all the major hits were played—"The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” “Cecilia,” "I Am a Rock," "America" and many more—and played well. Wade's nicely hit Garfunkel’s high notes and his lead vocals on “Bridge of Troubled Water” were terrific.

But well beyond "Hey Schoolgirl," recorded in 1957 when duo had dubbed themselves Tom & Jerry, and somewhat well-known tunes like "Richard Cory," "Baby Driver," "Old Friends" and "The Only Living Boy in New York," the artists onstage excelled in reaching deeper for songs--often with helpful introductions--such as "Bleecker Street," "He Was My Brother," "Leaves That Are Green," "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" and "Patterns."

As with a great rock concert, a stellar jukebox musical about a single artist should reiterate your appreciation while ideally expanding it. And though I wouldn't quite rank it among the best concerts or musicals--no need to revamp my list of favorite musicals of the decade--The Simon & Garfunkel Story really did succeed in both those ways.

Beware that tickets are a bit pricey. Without a Press Night invite or inclusion in my Broadway in Chicago subscription series, I was able to buy a couple back row seats that weren't too expensive, but it seems remaining tickets for the run through the weekend--at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place--could cost close to $100, or even more.

And one could argue the "show" doesn't deliver much more than an excellent Beatles cover band or any of the myriad tribute acts that can be seen rather inexpensively at community festivals or local bars.

So whether it's "worth it" is a judgment you'll have to make. But with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel both 78 years of age and seemingly never touring again, at least together if not individually, this show is doing good box office because these songs still deserve to be heard live.

For what it is--regardless of what it isn't, including the "real thing"--The Simon & Garfunkel Story is really good. (Without knowing any of the legal ramifications, it seems like a show Paul and Art should support.)

And with so many great songs to be heard--including "Fakin' It"--the replications definitely beat the sound of silence. 


Hemingway1955 said...

They were certainly a class act in their time. Glad you got a chance to see the show.

Hemingway1955 said...

Do you think Ed Sheerin is today's counterpart to Simon & Garfunkel?