The Simon & Garfunkel Story Made New Fans
The Simon & Garfunkel Story, which was at TPAC February 1st, is a must-see for any folk-rock fan. The show spans the entire careers of Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon, and brilliantly recreates all their most renowned works. Aside from the first and last numbers, the performance progresses chronologically, beginning with their 1957 single, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” and ending with their “Concert in Central Park” in 1981. The show is also quite educational, not assuming any prior knowledge and remaining accessible to even the most novice of fans. Simon & Garfunkel’s fantastic music was naturally the focus, but the performers interweaving details about the duo’s personal lives, the energetic four-piece live band, and the video projections putting their music in the context of a radically changing world in the 1960s and 1970s elevated the story beyond the music alone.
The cast – Elliot Lazar as Paul Simon and Max Pinson as Art Garfunkel – were the ones who brought the whole show together. A pair of microphones were set up downstage that the two remained at for most of the show. While the lights and visuals changed, while the live band came on and off behind them, and through several costume changes (including the oh so iconic turtlenecks), Lazar and Pinson remained center stage as a throughline, anchoring the variety of different songs they performed. Though they are listed in the cast as “Paul Simon” and “Art Garfunkel,” they spoke of them more as old friends of theirs, rather than attempting to act as if they were Simon and Garfunkel telling their own stories. I think this was the right choice, as the show is an excellent love letter to their music, and avoided coming off as a corny or pseudo-dramatic performance.
Lazar and Pinson both put on excellent vocal performances throughout the show, and Elliot Lazar also plays his guitar throughout most of the songs.They commanded the stage and their performance to make the audience feel like they were at a rock concert with the live band behind them during “I Am A Rock.” Equally, the James K. Polk Theater felt so small and intimate when they ditched the band during “Bleecker Street,” a song that Simon and Garfunkel performed by themselves in the evenings at New York folk clubs. Though most of the show features the pair singing those iconic folk harmonies together, mainly skimming over their solo careers, Lazar and Pinson do each have a chance to perform on their own, with Lazar singing Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” and Pinson singing “Bridge over Troubled Water.” Both performers brought their incredible vocal support and energy into Simon & Garfunkel’s music in a transformative way, most notably in Pinson’s solo performance mentioned above, my personal favorite number in the show.
The live band at the performance consisted of Marc Encabo on keyboards, Billy Harrington on drums, Jay Hemphill on bass guitar, and Josh Vasquez on guitar. The band also sang background vocals during the larger numbers. The energy the band brought to the songs they performed was palpable, and was not lost on the audience, who were encouraged to clap and sing along. Every time I looked at the backup musicians, they had huge smiles on their faces, always having a blast. Each member of the band also got a chance to play a solo throughout the show, allowing them to showcase their own musicality alongside the cast.
The one thing that was somewhat distracting during the performance was the background video. During the songs, the backgrounds were relatively inoffensive, with abstract images that somewhat corresponded to the lyrics of the music (except for the footage of space shuttles exploding on the downbeats of “Scarborough Fair,” though I admit I may be missing some context there). However, between some of the songs, news broadcasts from the 1960s and 1970s played during the blackouts. I understand that some of the blackouts were necessary for costume changes, but the videos often went on just a minute or so too long. The stories that the performers shared about Simon & Garfunkel didn’t relate to the footage of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, making the video feel out of place in the context of the show. Not all the background images were distracting, as the setting for the “Concert in Central Park” consisted of a painting of the park that slowly changed colors. From the afternoon light through the sunset to the evening glow, I did not realize the scene was dimming until “Bye Bye Love,” an Everly Brothers song that Simon & Garfunkel performed at the end of each of their live shows. After “Bye Bye Love,” the performers left the stage before coming back for the encore of Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits, ending the night for good with “The Boxer.”
Overall, I left The Simon & Garfunkel Story much more a fan of their music than I was when I came in. The two-hour show made for an amazing night out, and the covers, while bringing a unique twist to their songs, remained faithful to the incredible music of Simon & Garfunkel.
The Simon & Garfunkel Story was only at TPAC one night, but will continue its US/Canada tour through May, for more information see The Simon & Garfunkel Story.
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Soren Allen is a composer, arranger, performer, and music theorist in Nashville, TN. He is currently studying to complete a Master of Music in Music Composition at Belmont University and specializes in composing for wind chamber ensembles. Soren plays trombone with the Lakes Brass Quintet, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing music education in Middle Tennessee. Soren also has experience teaching music theory at Belmont, directing voice for youth theater, and tutoring piano students. You will often find Soren cozied up at home with his beautiful wife Lauren and their two cats, Juniper and Aspen.