Success strikes like a cobra. It mesmerizes, then it strikes. It paralyzes its target, freezes it in the moment. Simon and Garfunkel found that cobra, that success, in 1966 as “Sounds of Silence” broke into the top 100, selling over a million copies in an age where it took much more than a mouse click to own music. That moment, that music, that magic, and their names have remained frozen together ever since.
The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the National Theatre brings us all back to that moment, to who they were, their hard work and enormous talent, and the tangle of tendrils that bound Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon as they created iconic American music that still lights our memories and fills our soundtracks today.
The duo, brilliant harmonists and poetic lyricists, rode that moment for five years. They generated the soundtrack of a generation, crafting an image as agitated, anxious youths in turtlenecks, earnest, hurting, yearning. In 1970 they released “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It earned best-selling album awards in 1970, 1971 and 1972 – selling more than the Beatles, more than the Stones, more than Elvis. They were the voice of America. By 1971, the ride was over. But a lifetime of music later, they remain frozen in the world’s mind as the Duo, the great Simon and Garfunkel.
The Simon and Garfunkel Story illuminates the two men through their music and their life stories. Taylor Bloom as Paul Simon and Benjamin Cooley as Art Garfunkel brilliantly portray the stars from their adolescent days in the mid-1950s to their reunion in Central Park in 1981.
As high schoolers obsessed with the Everly Brothers and stardom, Bloom and Cooley jitter and swing as “Tom and Jerry” – the band name Simon and Garfunkel worked under in the late 1950s. Against a projected backdrop of middle American streets, we see the hard work and focus the duo brought to their game. Vital, jumpy, and happy, they exude a future of possibility.
As they morph into Simon and Garfunkel in their young twenties, the actors not only change clothes and guitars but also expressions. Furrowed brows and long looks speak to alienation, rejection, and the search for love, as they continued to make music. Their five years of success – marked by constant travel, recording, and being there for others – ultimately exhausted and derailed their partnership.
The interaction of Bloom and Cooley on stage captures the legacy of Simon and Garfunkel. They rarely look at one another yet smile when they do – Simon, in charge, confident, driving; Garfunkel distracted, ethereal and lost in the sound of his soaring voice. The band on stage moved effortlessly from era to era, from tight powerful rock to soft, caressing folk and ballad, to moving, energetic solos.
Projections helped to set the mood, moving delightfully through eras and times starting as all black and white in the 1950s, then finding color in 1967, and finally, crisp maturity as we finished with the Concert in the Park in 1981, ten years after breakup yet still America’s favorite voice.
The two harmonized well and their voices flew from the stage to wrap the audience in cocoons of memory and new discoveries in the music. The crowd contained original S&G fans from the 1950s and even a few who were likely new to the music. The audience clapped along and sometimes quietly sang to a song list that included the raucous “Cecilia,” the quiet “Homeward Bound,” the winking and ironic “Mrs. Robinson,” and the soaring beauty of “Sound of Silence” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” In this last song, Cooley reminded us all of the wonder of music, its ability to stop us in our tracks, entranced by its power and beauty. Like the cobra.
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes with a twenty-minute intermission.
The Simon and Garfunkel Story played through February 1, 2020, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, before continuing on its US and Canada tour. For tickets to upcoming events at the National Theatre, go online.