Lights dim to complete darkness. The sound of static radio envelopes the concert hall. A black and white projection sputters on screen, and an amalgamation of random events flashes past our eyes. Snippets of the Vietnam War, The Beatles, John F. Kennedy, and Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon coalesce to set the scene for the 1960s. The timelapse of these events speeds up by the second until everything comes grinding to a silent halt.
Penetrating the darkness is a spotlight shining on the centre stage, illuminating the singers as they sing the hauntingly nostalgic opening lines of ‘The Sound of Silence. “Hello darkness, my old friend” collectively sends chills across the theatre. That is all it takes to teleport us back to the ’60s and make us feel like we are witnessing the legendary duo, Simon and Garfunkel, right before our eyes.
Within the show’s first few minutes, The Simon & Garfunkel Story cements itself as a multimedia concert experience, taking us through the duo’s journey. The use of projections to set the backdrop of the ’60s and ’70s and narrations interspersed between songs makes the performance less of a musical and more of a well-crafted tribute to the legacy of Simon & Garfunkel.
The singers helming the titular roles – Cameron Potts as Art Garfunkel and Adam Dickinson and Simon Paul – look like their respective counterparts but do not entirely take on their roles. Fascinatingly, they sing in character, emulating some mannerisms of the duo, but add bits of their personal touch to the songs, especially during their solo acts. They also take on the role of narrators, letting us in on the personal and professional lives of the duo at various points in their careers.
The show follows the career arc of Simon and Garfunkel and chronologically presents their songs. ‘Hey Schoolgirl’, a peppy, upbeat track, gets the ball rolling. The song was the duo’s debut while they were still named Tom and Jerry, yet to catapult to fame.
However, the cheery atmosphere is short-lived as ‘He Was My Brother’, a song about the Civil Rights Movement, is sung right after. The ’60s marked the start of Simon and Garfunkel tapping into more emotional and intellectual songwriting to aptly react to the socio-political unrest plaguing the nation with the onset of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
As ‘He Was My Brother’ plays, archival footage of the Civil Rights Movement plays in the background, reminding us that music is never made in a vacuum and is always a reflection and reaction to life around us. To see the archival footage play whilst hearing the lyrics, “They shot my brother dead. Because he hated what was wrong,” gave me goosebumps and let me in on a glimpse of an era I only knew from history textbooks.
The singers then belt out tracks from the Sounds of Silence album, released by Simon and Garfunkel in the late ’60s. The songs played are much more mellow, introspective tunes, dealing with themes of love, loss and loneliness. ‘Kathy’s Song’ covers Simon’s time spent in England, and ‘Leaves That are Green’ is a reflective piece about time marching on and our helplessness in the face of it. Richard Corey, an upbeat track that deals with darker themes of corruption and suicide, contrasts these two songs in the album.
The diversity of songs is a testament to the versatility of Simon and Garfunkel as a folk-rock duo. Furthermore, to see the songs performed live, with the band effortlessly switching from a keyboard to an electric guitar and the singers belting out a lively tune after a sombre one, spoke to the sheer talent and dedication of the performers before us. Their passion was effusive and infectious and made us, as the audience, enjoy the songs even more.
The show then moves to the most prolific period of the duo’s career, with the black and white grainy background changing into colourful psychedelic tones to depict the onset of the hippie movement. ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Patterns’, ‘Homeward Bound’, and ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song’ (Feelin’ Groovy)’ from the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme were all played. With mostly tuneful and euphonious tracks, the songs got the audience swaying in their seats. However, the tracks I enjoyed the most were, without a doubt, ‘Mrs Robinson’ and ‘Cecilia’. The tunes certainly lifted the spirits of the audience, with many singing the lyrics and clapping along to the beats of the song. If there are any two songs which can start a party, those two certainly take the cake.
In the final act, the band and singers saved the best for the last, playing the chart-breaking ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘The Boxer’ from Simon and Garfunkel’s final album. To add realism, the singers dressed up as Simon and Garfunkel in the iconic Concert At Central Park attire, where the duo reunited to perform after they split up in 1970.
The Concert At Central Park was the duo’s first live album, and it was an event in which the pair performed in front of an audience of 500,000 people. Archival footage of cheers from Central Park and the announcement calling upon Simon and Garfunkel reverberated throughout the theatre, once again making us feel like we were part of the audience, witnessing the duo’s actual performance in Central Park.
‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is undoubtedly a special song for many and arguably one of the career-defining songs for the duo. To hear the song live, and see the faces of many looking upon the singers in pure awe and admiration was heartwarming. I could not help but sing along as well, and like many others, I was moved by the sheer atmosphere and power of the song. Once the song ended, the roaring applause felt never-ending.
By the end of the show, amidst the standing ovation, whistles and cheers from the audience, I was convinced that the Simon & Garfunkel Story is not just a homage to the original duo. Instead, the performance took on the mantle of not just allowing us to see a live rendition of the songs but gave us a space to tread the journey of Simon & Garfunkel and, for a split second, feel like we were part of a bygone era.
What makes music evergreen is that it stands the test of time and connects with an audience regardless of when they hear it. To see an audience moved by the songs of Simon and Garfunkel is a testament to the legacy of the duo and the prowess of the singers and the band for evoking that emotion in an audience. The Simon & Garfunkel Story ultimately stands as a living testament to the power of performance to move, reminisce and relive.
Photos by Sunny Low of the DANAMIC Team.