Review: Here’s to you – the Simon & Garfunkel Songbook, Theatre on the Bay, August, 2019

Performers:  Josh Ansley, Ashleigh Butcher, Phindile Dube, Daniel Geddes, Sanli Jooste, Hanna So, Justin Swartz, Wessel Odendaal

Producer: VR Theatrical

I am a big fan of tribute shows and usually describe them as fun. It is not often that I don’t enjoy tribute shows. Beyond enjoying the Simon & Garfunkel Songbook, I was captivated by the scope and depth of the show. The eight piece band is terrific. The artists play the instruments and sing. Coupled with an evocative set and stunning lighting, choreography and inspired musical arrangements, Here’s to you – the Simon & Garfunkel Songbook, is a theatrical musical experience – which goes beyond a generic tribute delivery/revue of a songbook.

Tribute shows tend to be low-budget, sung to backtracks or perhaps with the accompaniment of a keyboard and a few instruments. That doesn’t leave the space to arrange songs as performers need to belt out words in synch with laid-out tracks. With this show, Bryan Schimmel, Wessel Odendaal, Daniel Geddes, Matthew Vlok and Jaco van Rensburg have cooked up innovative arrangements of songs from the much loved Simon & Garfunkel Songbook. There are penny whistles, drums, tambourines, cellos, violin, cymbals. Chatting to Jaco van Rensburg, he told me that they cast first and then arranged the music to fit in with the instruments that the artists can play. The result is magic. The performers have taken ownership of the songs. They riff of one another. There is a sense of them viscerally immersing themselves in the songs and the multi layered lyrics of the Simon & Garfunkel Songbook.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel formalized as the group Simon & Garfunkel in 1963. Before that, they sang under the name of Tom & Gerry. Many of their songs took on the resonance as protest songs, during the Vietnam War. The songs became a potent soundtrack of youth of the 60s and 70s; anthems for AIDs sufferers in the USA in the 80s. Images from the songs are connected to many events, films, books. The S&G legacy continues with youngsters responding to the music’s – reflection, yearning for love, peace, harmony, overcoming dark; finding solace. This is beautifully conveyed in this production – with the spectacle of the hipster band of young artists – ripped jeans, ankle boots, bleached hair – ripping into the songs- slicing and dicing through words and music.

Each song has been staged as a capsule – props moved around, lighting rigged and configured in a certain way for each set. It feels more like a musical revue than a tribute show. Nadine Minnaar’s stylish set – wooden trellises and boxes – frames the performers.

Van Rensburg said that the concept was to construct “a barnyard of memories”. The artists are unpacking boxes of memories on stage. It works beautifully. Oliver Hauser’s lighting plot is masterful as he subtly plays with mood between numbers – upbeat to elegiac. Returning to the format of a generic tribute show – and yes, we have already said this is not average tribute show- lighting tends to veer to laser, disco-glitter balls and smoke machines. It may be fun but there is not much depth. This show is deep. That sounds so 70s. Let us not say groovy. I feel that the artists venture deep into the grooves of these songs.

The artists (Joburg/Pretoria based) are a joy to listen to and watch. They are all good but stand-outs for me are Hanna So and Phindy Dube. Both are mesmerising– in terms of vocals and charismatic presence. I was fascinated by So who plays the piano (performs a solo in this show), violin and cello in this show. She does an extraordinary vocal solo in Still Crazy After All These years. She had us gasping. I can’t find the words to describe her voice as it was a fleeting interlude. It is a voice which speaks of reaching for words, notes; longing and searching and embracing the melody. I see that she is completing a doctorate in music and has won awards for classical music. I would love to see more of this artist.

Here’s to you – The Simon & Garfunkel Songbook is a beautifully rendered theatrical revue, performed with vooma and artistry by a young cast. Fabulous.

Image credit: Photo by Chritiaan Kotze. Pic supplied.

Here’s to you – the Simon & Garfunkel Songbook is at Theatre on the Bay, until August, 17, 2019. Tickets: R100 – R350. Book at or at Theatre on the Bay box office 021 438-3301.

Production credits- stage show- August 2019:

Director:  Timothy le Roux

Musical director: Wessel Odendaal.

Musical arrangements: Bryan Schimmel, Wessel Odendaal, Daniel Geddes, Matthew Vlok, Jaco van Rensburg

Lighting designer: Oliver Hauser

Set designer: Nadine Minnaar