While it’s been pretty big music news that Paul Simon recently played his last-ever show as a touring musician near his hometown borough of Queens in New York City, “Paul Simon” will continue to tour. And miraculously appearing decades younger and with his estranged partner (and similarly fresh-faced) Art Garfunkel in tow!
Well…sort of. In the touring production of The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Simon (played by Taylor Bloom) and Garfunkel (played by Ben Cooley) recount the duo’s career in a show that includes a full band live concert, projected historical film footage, and spoken word biographical interludes. But the music is the message, and the audience will hear all the hits including “Mrs. Robinson,” “Cecilia,” “Homeward Bound,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and many more.
Bloom says that he’s comfortable with all the material now, but when he found out he’d gotten the part as a singing guitar player, he needed to be a quick study. Very quick.
“I knew the hits like ‘The Boxer’ and ‘The Sound of Silence’ and that was about it. So for the first couple of weeks after I got the show, I listened to the records non-stop,” he says. “And it’s a lot easier to play a song you know than one you don't.”
To prepare for their parts, he and Cooley studied original S&G performance footage, stretching from early career appearances on “The Kraft Music Hour” to their 1981 “The Concert In Central Park” reunion. All the while trying to replicate the distinctive vocal sounds and body language of the duo.
And unlike the real Simon and Garfunkel’s famously fractious relationship, their two doppelgangers seem to get along. “We lucked out and we’re having a lot of fun. Ben and I are the same age and come from similar backgrounds and both studied theater,” Bloom offers. “Our onstage and offstage relationships feed off each other.”
Developed over a number of years by Dean Elliott (himself a former “Paul Simon”), the show basically unfolds in a chronological manner through the duo’s career. For his part, Bloom says he loves performing “The Boxer” most of all, and secretly wishes he could tackle the deep cut “A Most Peculiar Man,” which he calls “a gorgeous piece of music, but a little too obscure for most of the audience.”
He's cognizant that shows like his along with the increasing number of rock cover and tribute bands are the only way to hear the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s live anymore as more and more of the original performers retire, cut back on their touring schedules, or pass away. As to why Simon and Garfunkel’s music is still so incredibly lasting and popular today, Bloom has a theory.
“As far as the songs go, I think there’s a three-pronged appeal,” Bloom says. “Paul Simon writes specific lyrics that can be universally understood. Art created a lot of his harmony lines, and he had a good ear for that. And then finally what brings a lot of people to our show is that this music was so important to so many people when it first came out. There was a lot of turbulence in the world, and people forged these strong connections to the music. I see how the show has a really profound effect on people.”
This is Bloom’s second tour with the show, and he’s learned to relax a bit more than when he started, whether they’re performing for 150 or 2,500 people. But he also knows that he and Cooley can never coast on their previous performances. The main hallmark of Simon and Garfunkel’s music is their lush vocal harmonies, and if that element is off even a bit, the audience will get it immediately.
There have been a few humorous instances on the road. Bloom says he will occasionally hear of audience members who buy tickets and come to the show under the impression that they will seeing the actual Simon & Garfunkel.
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“It’s strange! I mean…how could they get that mixed up?” Bloom wonders. “It’s a reasonably priced ticket in [theater] venues!” And no, the size of Cooley’s white man’s afro doesn’t rise taller when the year’s progress as did the real Garfunkel’s.
Now that the real Paul Simon is done touring, he’s got some time on his hands. So the question is posed to Bloom: If the man himself was coming to see the show, would he want to know before or after the gig? “I think I’d want to find out about it afterwards,” he says, before relaying what he thought might have been a close call.
“When were playing in Spokane, Washington a couple of weeks ago, there was a gentleman sitting toward the front on the aisle that bared a striking resemblance to Art Garfunkel. I spotted him in the second act and was very, very nervous for a while,” he laughs. "It turned out it wasn’t him. But I’d still want to know if one of them was really there only after the show was over!”
The Simon & Garfunkel Story plays at 8 p.m., October 18, at the Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash. For information, call 281-208-6900 or visit StaffordCentre.com. $39-$55.