Simon and Garfunkel Story stuck in the pleasant
Tom and Jerry will be holding forth on the stage of the Mayfield Dinner Theatre for the next seven weeks – at least that’s the name childhood friends Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel gave themselves back in 1957 when they were breaking into the music business by trying to sound like the Everly Brothers.
It didn’t work out well for them even though their manager bribed DJ Alan Freed to play their record Hey Schoolgirl on the radio. After subsequent failed efforts Simon gave up and moved to England while Garfunkel went to Columbia University to study architecture.
The two squabbled, broke up, reformed and then two career changing events overcame them. Unknown to the two, CBS record producer Tom Wilson, inspired by the successful folk-rock creations of The Byrds and Bob Dylan, made his own rock remix of an earlier S & G song, The Sound of Silence, using studio musicians. Simon was horrified at the result but Wilson gave the duo their first hit.
The second came about when S & G fan and director Mike Nichols wanted to use their music on the soundtrack of his new film, The Graduate. Simon, ever the idealist, considered the idea “selling out” to Hollywood, but relented.
Suddenly Simon and Garfunkel were everywhere. Bridge Over Troubled Water rocketed to the top of the charts to become the best selling record of all time. The two came to define a decade in American popular music – their songs have gone on beyond the bounds of pop music to be woven into the fabric of our lives.
Their relationship remained prickly. Simon regarded himself as the creative forced behind the two, ignoring the power that Garfunkel’s soaring tenor had on their success. They loudly and publicly broke up and reformed over and over again. They released successful records on their own. Never reaching Simon’s rarefied solo heights (Graceland), Garfunkel nonetheless released a number of hit records and began a career as a movie actor.
After a successful run in London’s West End, The Simon & Garfunkel Story has landed at the Mayfield in its North American premiere with its creator and West End star Dean Elliott as Paul Simon. Garfunkel is played by Jonny Muir, who has a lovely tenor voice but alas, lacks the high, ethereal delivery that enabled Garfunkel to touch the gods. That is particularly evident in the show’s climax, Bridge Over Troubled Water, which Muir delivers in a perfectly workmanlike manner but lacks the heart-wrenching delivery of the original. The song on the recording was originally to be sung by Simon. The composer wisely stepped back, saying to his partner, “you better do this one.”
Despite a notable lack of on-stage chemistry between the two Mayfield performers, their voices combine in a most engaging manner capturing Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrical phrasing and unique sound. This production lands somewhere between a jukebox musical and a legends concert. Little attempt is made at humour, and if there was any drama in the life of S & G, you’ll not find it here. The script is a recitation of their story and their times, delivered by Muir and Elliott straight to the audience. Elliot carries the weight of the show – as did composer Paul Simon. He plays guitar as well as singing. The two dress in the casual styles that S & G affected during their careers, but with a broad English delivery that sounds more of the Bow Bells than the boys from Queens.
Opening with The Sound Of Silence, the couple go on to deliver iconic hits such as Mrs. Robinson, Cecilia, Homeward Bound – pretty well the entire Simon and Garfunkel back catalogue alongside lesser known classics such as Old Friends and The Only Boy Living In New York. In hearing the songs again after a number of years, one is struck at how well they have aged, how poetic and thoughtful Simon’s lyrics were and how the close harmonies are still easy on the ears while servicing the material.
In this production the words and music are illuminated with a choice selection of short films from the time and an unending collection of family pictures and production stills. The evening ends with a recreation of some of the songs the two sang during their great reunion celebration in Central Park in 1981. It came 10 years after they separated. Five hundred thousand people attended.
The two are still friends.
Note should be made of the hard-working and immensely talented house band at the Mayfield – particularly local one-man band Paul Lamoureux, who plays everything from a mighty organ to what looked like a coffee tin.
At the Mayfield through Oct. 30, The Simon & Garfunkel Story is an entertaining evening that will surround you with a warm fog of nostalgia, but never ventures beyond the pleasant.
Photos by Ed Ellis