REVIEW: The Simon and Garfunkel Story (Vaudeville Theatre) ★★★

The music of Simon and Garfunkel was played a lot when I was growing up, however, I realised as I was heading off to this show that I actually know next to nothing about Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Unfortunately when I left the theatre at the end of this show, I was really none the wiser!

Sam O’Hanlon and Charles Blyth are on stage as Simon and Garfunkel the singers but not the men. Blyth does bear an uncanny resemblance to Garfunkel and with the trademark hairstyle and clothing is instantly recognisable. Paul Simon lacks such a trademark look so O’Hanlon sports a couple of “Simon-esq” outfits and a guitar. O’Hanlon and Blyth are impersonating Simon and Garfunkel during the musical numbers but between the songs, they are Sam and Charles talking to the audience about Simon and Garfunkel. It feels a little clunky; a half way performance with neither actor fully in character nor entirely out of character.

The show opens with a journey through Simon and Garfunkel’s early years; meeting at school and forming the duo Tom and Jerry; Art’s return to college and Paul embarking on a life in England; their reunion as a musical duo and releasing their first album Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. The music is accompanied by a back drop of film and images evoking the feel of the era; – the freedom riders, the Vietnam War, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, flower -waving hippies and music festivals all give us a strong 1960s feel.

The second half of the show starts with a slightly more opaque use of the back screen. A number of 1970s style photos of children flash up as words are spoken. I actually thought we were getting some insight into the duo but the relevance is never made clear. This is followed by a series of “then and now” style photos with seemingly random subjects, which again are never really explained.

As the second half progresses, we are quickly on to Simon and Garfunkel’s most successful album Bridge over Troubled Water. O’Hanlon and Blyth are at their best as they rattle through some of the most notable hits, leading to a beautiful rendition of the title track. Blyth slightly lacks some of Garfunkel’s haunting breathlessness and it is not quite the inspiring, tear jerker which I have always found the original to be but it is nonetheless a wonderful performance.

Simon and Garfunkel were incredibly successful at a relatively young age and have both sustained careers well into their 70s. There is clearly a lot of interesting subject matter on these two artists, but we never really get a feel for either of them nor do we get much insight into their relationship and why it ultimately became so strained.

Clearly there is a huge back catalogue of songs to work with and we are given all the highlights, with a few (to me) unknowns that would keep any fan from the fair weather to the hard core entertained. However the balance between the songs and the story is very uneven. Bridge Over Troubled Water was the biggest selling album of 1970, 71 and 72, yet despite or perhaps because of this huge success, the duo broke up but we are not provided with any context. Paul Simon was a prolific writer and a beautiful poet and it would have been interesting to understand the inspiration and motivation for many of his songs. Beyond being informed that “Cathy” was about Simon’s then girlfriend Cathy (!) very little information is given.

O’Hanlon and Blyth are backed by an excellent band; in particular Kyla Brown on keyboards who handles the classic opening to Bridge Over Troubled Water with aplomb.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the familiar songs which were all beautifully performed. It was also a pleasure to hear some unfamiliar tunes from the duo’s early catalogue. However, I would argue that this is not “The Story of Simon and Garfunkel” more “The songs of Simon and Garfunkel”

Did I enjoy the evening – absolutely. Was I entertained – extremely. Did I discover the story of Simon and Garfunkel – not at all.

Reviewed by Emma Heath


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