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A&E | Vol. 8, No. 9, March 6, 2008
(Bubbas On Patrol)

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Simon's Music Retold

by ELIZABETH SHAW MCWILLIAMS

MUSICAL INTERPRETATION ENTERTAINING IN DARK AND HAPPY WAYS

I must inform those of you who are in fact reading this of a crucial snobbishness of which I am plagued. I don't like musical reviews. Actually, I don't really like musicals or musical reviews.

I adore Paul Simon, though, and have a deep affinity for music itself which has played out with everything from seeing Dylan with my dad when I was little all the way to its culmination in following a band for a few years (yep). So, although I might not be an aficionado of this genre, per se, I am an avid fan of all types of music. I grew up on Paul Simon and the Beatles because I was in Switzerland and this was quite literally the only rock-ish tapes we had.

But I agreed to do a piece on a new theater-"The Garden Street Playhouse"-and review its show-"The Sounds of Simon."

I grabbed my friend who is way less snarky than myself, who was excited about this, and we headed to Garden Street. The room we enter was not what I expected. That's good and bad and weird all in one. The seats were fabulous vintage theater seats with amazingly ample leg room. The stage was right in my lap. And it's sparse, bare, raw, choose your adjective. There's Astroturf on the low stage, a spray-painted park bench, chain-link fencing that goes up to the ceiling, a bottle of pills here, a handle of booze there. That's pretty much it.  

And I loved it.

I was beginning to think that this was going to be some sort of Beckettian interpretation of Paul Simon. Nitty gritty. Real. Dark. Not stagy. And while it was those things at times, it was also the opposite. There were moments of completely dark music that rubbed shoulders with cheerleaderly, happy dancing numbers.  

This was where my snobbishness began to raise its ugly head.

I felt like I was engaged in a tug of war. There were songs that engaged me- choreography that was complete art. The interpretations of several songs blew me away.  The voices were unbelievable. But there were also dance numbers that came right after a dark song that were too bright for me. My notes: "I am emotionally confusedThis dance number is fun, but is it relevant?...?????...It doesn't mean anything because we don't know who the characters are."

Yet, there were couples who danced out after the show, who genuinely enjoyed themselves.

Who were these characters and why were they singing such interesting renditions of Paul Simon songs?

So, I just had to call Garden Street Playhouse Producer and Director Gary Waldman. I get to ask all these questions lurking in my mind. And here's what I got.

I was correct that there wasn't exactly a story line to follow. This isn't supposed to be a show about the life of Paul Simon through his music, this show is purely about his music.  

"My musical tributes are about the songs, not the person," Waldman says. So, there isn't going to be an underlying story to "get." Instead, it's more akin to a series of one-act plays whose characters are loosely strung together with music and lyrics.  

We discussed the fact that, for Waldman, interpretation is paramount.

"I change the songs, the feel of the songs," he says. "It's all about interpretation because I would tell the story differently."

Waldman says he believes that music is open to a vast amount of interpretation.  He also says he feels that it is one's right to express their own interpretation of other's music. While sitting in the theater, I encountered songs I once thought slow and sad that were flipped, reversed, inverted.

Reinterpretation can work. And, not only that, it can be a vital part of the life of a piece of music. Music is constantly involved in the art of interpretation. No two members of the audience will have the exact same experience of any artwork.

But it is the responsibility of the artist to lead us into their artwork, to show us the door through which to step, the path towards their meaning. Waldman's piece may open the door into a fantastic variety of musical reinterpretation, but it left me hanging there.  

"I can't say there's a tight story line," Waldman says. "It's really about a lot of people, and I had Jacob's Ladder' in mind-the 30 minutes before you die, life flashes before your eyes. You don't know what's going on, that's sort of what I tried to do hereI wish I could tell everybody, but you can't-that's not entertainment, it's school."

I agree that too much information, or a too tightly led path leaves little to the audience's own interpretation, but too little can do damage as well.

Waldman isn't concerned, though.

"You'll enjoy it whether you get the message or not," he says. "It doesn't matter that they don't get it because it's there and they'll enjoy it."

The more important aspect to Waldman is the entertainment value. He wants to please his customer, entertain his audience. And yes, the music is interesting, but perhaps some of us want the dark treasure hiding underneath.

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The Sounds of Simon
When: 8 p.m. Wed.-Sun., 3 p.m. Sat. and Sun. through March 9
Where: Garden Street Playhouse Theatre, 1625 W. Garden St.
Cost: $30
Details: 438-9399 or gardenstreetplayhouse.com