‘Simon and Garfunkel Story’ provides dream roles to singing duo
When he landed the role of Paul Simon in the nationally touring “The Simon & Garfunkel Story,” Taylor Bloom likened it to “accidentally stepping into a dream.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” says the actor-musician of this multimedia experience, celebrating arguably the greatest pop duo of our time, and headlining Nov. 7 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh.
Using huge projection photos and original film footage, the show also features a full live band performing all of Simon & Garfunkel’s hits, including “Mrs. Robinson” (featured in the 1967 film “The Graduate ”), “Cecilia,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Homeward Bound” and many more.
The performance tells the story from the duo’s humble beginnings as Tom & Jerry to their incredible success as one of the best-selling music groups of the 1960s, to their dramatic split in 1970.
It culminates with the landmark “The Concert in Central Park” reunion in 1981 with more than a half-million fans in attendance.
Bloom, born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley near Middletown, Va., remembers the first time he heard the song “America”: “I was in my teens and I had no idea what I was listening to, but I remember thinking ‘Whoa, this is this is amazing!’ ” he says.
The last time Simon and Garfunkel toured together was the “Old Friends Tour” in 2003, he says.
“Since then, there has been no way to enjoy their music in a live, authentic setting. Our approach to the show is so deeply rooted in their original tracks and imbued with their essence, that, for our audience, it’s probably the next best thing to seeing them live,” he says.
Bloom assures that this show is not a run-of-the-mill tribute.
Neither he nor Ben Cooley, who is performing Art Garfunkel, is doing an impression or impersonation of Simon or Garfunkel.
“Instead, what we’ve done with the help of our director Dean Elliott, the creator of the show, is to fill our vocals with a certain styling and flavor that helps to capture the same sound as Simon and Garfunkel,” he explains.
Between the songs, when they are telling their story, they are “just Ben and Taylor,” he says. “But the goal is that when we play, the audience could close their eyes and believe they were hearing Simon and Garfunkel play.”
He praises Cooley, who like the real Simon and Garfunkel, is a Queens native, for doing a marvelous job.
“For me, the reason Art Garfunkel was so loved was not merely because of the beauty of his voice, but because of how easy he made it look,” Bloom explains.
“He performed with a calm confidence that draws the listener right in. Ben sings with such ease and skill, and has woven that same kind of stage presence into his performance, and it’s truly remarkable to see.”
Bloom says there is so much for him to love about this show, whether it’s “the amazing band I play with nightly or the timeless music.”
Perhaps the most rewarding element is the audience reaction.
“For so many, these songs are tied to personal memories, some joyful, some fraught with sadness,” Bloom says. “For us onstage, that means if we’ve done our jobs right, we get to enjoy a beautiful emotional response from a grateful audience.”
He sees the show as very cleverly crafted to help set the songs in a cultural and historical context, so the audience is “not just hearing beautiful music, but (can) understand its origin and deeper meaning.”
The reason the music continues to resonate with people, he believes, comes down to the songwriting.
“Paul Simon manages to write deeply poetic lyrics that are accessible and relatable,” he says. “You don’t need a dictionary or a masters in English Lit to understand what he’s saying, because he writes from the heart, and luckily we’ve all got one of those.”
When you take Simon’s writing and accentuate it with Garfunkel’s exciting and soothing harmonies “you’ve got something with wide appeal and great longevity,” Bloom adds. “I don’t know how large their fan base will be going into the future, but I’m 23 (as is Ben) and it’s some of the most-played music in my library, whether I’m on the road or not.”
Following a dream
Bloom says he best relates to Simon and Garfunkel’s early material because so much of it deals with the isolation of youth.
“Simon was writing alone while touring around England, trying to follow his dream and falling in and out of love,” he explains. “That strikes a deep chord with me.”
He believes Paul Simon’s recent announcement that he is retiring from extended touring adds an exclamation point to the immediacy with which audiences enjoy the show they create.
Simon’s final road show of that last tour was Sept. 17 of this year in Pittsburgh.