Touring – reviewed at the Lyric Theatre, London
Last weekend Paul Simon played his last ever London gig in Hyde Park where tickets cost, on average, £125 a piece for a good view, and the performance…well…let’s be polite and say it wasn’t bad for a man of 76.
A much cheaper alternative – and a chance to turn the clock back and hear S&G at their very best – pops up now an then at the Lyric Theatre. And for fans of the duo, which produced some of the most influential sounds of the 1960s, it’s a must-see show.
It’s wonderful, and nostalgic, to listen to the old songs like ‘The Boxer’, ‘Sound of Silence’, ‘Mrs Robinson’ and ‘Homeward Bound’, and this production is about as close to hearing the real thing, at the peak of their success, as you’ll ever likely to get.
It’s astonishing to think that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, childhood friends who later formed a legendary musical partnership, were actually only a double act for 17 years yet a remarkable 58 years later (can it really be that long?) we still relish their musical output.
This show is difficult to pigeon-hole. It’s closest to a concert but with its leads, at last night’s performance Philip Murray Warson and Charles Blyth respectively, telling the story of their relationship – albeit in English accents which sounds peculiar as their characters are New Yorkers. It’s not entirely warts and all – they don’t give the real nitty-gritty about why the pair broke up and it could do with a few entertaining anecdotes from their careers.
Behind them is a large video screen recalling images of the times they grew up in. Adverts, newsreels, glimpses of other popular acts like Elvis, Dylan, Jerry Lee. And while most are evocative reminders of the era, I could have done without the iconic photo of the horrific self-immolation of Vietnamese monk, Thích Quảng Đức, in 1963.
But it was symbolic of the time. For while their brand of folk rock preached peace, harmony, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, it is hard to forget that their formative years were ugly and violent.
Far from being hip, groovy and extolling the Summer of Love, their world was one of death, destruction and upheaval with Vietnam, presidential assassinations, race riots, segregation, the Klan, Malcolm X and disgraced Nixon.
Warson & Blyth, throwing everyone by standing the wrong way around (Garfunkel & Simon is really as unacceptable as Dec and Ant – it’s just not done) but are terrific as Simon & Garfunkel.
Their vocal harmonies are haunting and spot on in their familiarity.
Warson looks earnest, and does less of the talking and more guitar playing. He bears a passing resemblance to a young Paul Simon but no more than that.
Meanwhile Blyth has a slightly spaced out look, a permanent grin as though he’s inhabiting his own little ’60s idyll, created by smoking too much weed or obeying Timothy Leary’s dictum to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
Indeed Garfunkel was arrested a couple of times for marijuana possession so perhaps he was in character. He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself on stage.
He occasionally breaks into a right-on ’60s dad dance and yet radiates as Garfunkel. His rendition of Scarborough Fair and, in particular, his party piece, Bridge Over Troubled Water, brings out goosebumps.
The show could do with less audience participation.
Being encouraged to clap along inevitably results in 30 seconds of vigorous clapping before it tailing off until the next song. Audiences would much rather just enjoy the performance.
This show has travelled the world and you can see why. The duo’s performances are pitch perfect.
But I’d like to see it fleshed out into a proper juke-box musical with theatrical scenes, as we’ve seen recently with Sunny Afternoon, Tina, All Or Nothing and Jersey Boys. Why not tell the story properly instead of like a Wikipedia stub?
The Simon & Garfunkel Story has another three gigs at the Lyric (October 1 and 29, plus December 10); plus a week at the Vaudeville Theatre (Nov 12-17).
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