Just as there is a reason why certain plays and musicals aren’t revived very often (put bluntly, they’re not very good), there’s a reason why songs from the Simon & Garfunkel repertoire are still enjoyed by many people decades after they were released – put just as bluntly, they’re brilliant. It is, therefore, a tall order for anyone to take on a production like The Simon & Garfunkel Story (which really, although life events and professional milestones are all explained during the course of the evening, should nonetheless be called The Simon & Garfunkel Revue).
It was in the West End in 2018, of course, playing several dates, and it’s back on tour in 2019 – not that ticket sales necessarily equate to a production with high artistic merit, but (at least in this case) success begets success, and this show is essentially a highly enjoyable evening. I have only one song by Simon & Garfunkel in my record collection, a cover of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ on one of the albums by the Welsh choir Only Men Aloud. I think I probably knew fewer songs over the course of the evening than most people in the audience – there isn’t a song list in the show’s programme, but Simon & Garfunkel fans hardly need one – and it struck me that their back catalogue is extremely varied in tempo and subject matter. Thus, a mellow first half is either complemented or contrasted (dependent on your point of view) with a more celebratory second half.
While there may be a case in favour of mixing the softer and more exuberant songs up rather more than they are, this is rather overridden by the ease with which the narrative as it stands can be followed. In an era where all sorts of methods of storytelling are attempted on stage, a good number of which simply over-complicate things, the humble beginnings to Hall of Fame story is told here in forward chronological order. It’s undemanding, maybe, but in a show that concentrates on delivering a decent live experience of a large number of Simon & Garfunkel tunes, it works brilliantly.
A large screen is used for projections of montages and pictures, though it needed to be a little higher than it was, as the shadows of Adam Dickinson and Kingsley Judd (‘Simon’ and ‘Garfunkel’ respectively) partly obscured the screen, which I found mildly amusing, particularly when one of them reached down when a video was playing to take a sip of water, which of course they are perfectly entitled to do. Though I hadn’t a clue what was going on when random pictures of people were being shown on screen with voiceovers of older people seemingly discussing how much better things were in their day (if I understood the video correctly), and in particular how little deference is shown these days to people’s elders. I just couldn’t make the connection between those viewpoints (arguably valid as they are) to anything else in the show.
Anyway, Dickinson plays the acoustic guitar flawlessly, and the other musicians are just as sublime – Leon Camfield on bass, Mat Swales on drums and Will Tuckwell on keys and guitar, plus a trio introduced only as a ‘brass ensemble’. Dickinson and Judd harmonise impressively. I never saw the actual Simon & Garfunkel perform live, so as to whether it was like being at, for instance, Wembley in June 1982, I couldn’t possibly say. And rather than putting on American accents, the pair speak about their characters in the third person, in their natural British voices. Added to that, the sheer reality of the story being told means there isn’t some fictional narrative where plot points and musical numbers are crowbarred in. That said, I wonder what a jukebox musical of Simon & Garfunkel songs, along the lines of Sunny Afternoon or Jersey Boys, would be like.
This production was something of an educational experience for yours truly, as I wasn’t aware of some of the finer details as to how the duo began making music. I’m not a great fan of audience participation, especially when it comes in the form of near-relentless encouragements to clap along (no, not to ‘The Sound of Silence’). But It’s pitch-perfect, apart from a negligible bit of whistling – and if it’s any consolation to Kingsley Judd, I can’t whistle very well either. Overall, a wholesome, delightful and engaging evening.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A critically acclaimed concert style show which uses state of the art video projection, contemporary newsreel footage, TV commercials, incredible concert-style lighting and a full live brass ensemble, The Simon & Garfunkel Story takes you through all the songs and stories that shaped them, chronicling their rise from their humble beginnings as 50s rock n roll duo Tom & Jerry to global superstardom, their dramatic break-up at the peak of their international success, solo careers and ending with a stunning recreation of their legendary 1981 New York Central Park reunion concert, attended by 500,000 fans.
Featuring all their greatest hits including ‘Mrs Robinson’, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘The Boxer’, ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and many, many more, Charles Blyth and Sam O’Hanlon star.
Director & Musical Supervisor Dean Elliott, Set & Costume Designer Andrew Riley, Sound Designer Chris Crowther, Lighting Design Dominic Warwick, Video Design Perry Freeze & Rachel Allen (Z Frame), Casting Director Anne Vosser.
Produced by Maple Tree Entertainment Limited
THE SIMON & GARFUNKEL STORY
London, W1D 7ES
Monday 29 April at 7.30pm
Monday 20 May at 7.30pm
Monday 24 June at 7.30pm