If you were listening to music in the mid-1960s to the early 1970’s you will have no trouble remembering the music of Simon and Garfunkel. Their music, a combination of folk and rock, dominated the airwaves for several years. The National Theatre will be presenting the Touring Company of “The Simon and Garfunkel Story” for three shows on January 31 and February 1, 2020.
The musical follows the duo, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, from their start as local singers in New York City called Tom and Jerry through their rise to success as one of the biggest music groups in the free world. It includes their dramatic break-up and “The Concert in Central Park” reunion in 1981 for an audience of half a million people. The company does this through huge projections and original film. There will also be a full live performing band. It will include all their recognizable songs, “Mrs. Robinson,” “Sounds of Silence,” and “The Boxer” to name a few.
I had a chance to interview Ben Cooley who plays Art Garfunkel in “The Simon and Garfunkel Story.”
Bio: Perhaps Benjamin (Ben) Joseph Cooley was destined to take on the role of Art Garfunkel. After all, just like the real Simon and Garfunkel, he was born and raised in New York City’s Queens borough—“an amazing place to live and I wouldn’t want to have grown up anywhere else.” To Ben, there is nothing more exciting than telling a great story on a stage through songs and music. Bitten by the acting bug when he landed a small part in a local non-profit children’s production of “The Sound of Music,” Ben instantly fell in love with the way that stories were brought to life within the format of a musical and spent the rest of his high school years appearing in as many shows staged by the organization and his school as possible—including “Footloose” and “Songs for a New World”. After high school, he studied Musical Theatre at The Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, the comprehensive performing arts conservatory of the University of Hartford. Since then, he has performed in such musicals as “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” and “Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical”.
The actor’s first real connection with Simon and Garfunkel happened when he watched a TV special of the duo’s “Concert in Central Park”. Ben felt an immediate kinship with their folksy, lightly sung musical style that was, in many respects, similar to the Christian music his parents played while he was growing up. At the time, he never dreamed he would have the privilege of performing their legendary music all across the country. Ben’s current hobbies are an eclectic mix. In his spare time, he enjoys the visual art of calligraphy; participating in FPV (first-person-view) drone racing, the part video game, part action sport; and playing Guitar Hero. The fourth of five siblings, three boys and two girls, the actor is convinced that taking care of his “awesome” mentally disabled brother has helped both him and other members of his family to be more kind, loving, caring and understanding people.
- What one fact did you learn about Simon and Garfunkel that you did not know before you took the role?
I think the coolest face I learned is that they started making music when they were seventeen using the names Tom and Jerry.
- What are your favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs?
For sure “America,” “Bleecker Street,” and “The Boxer.”
- The duo grew up not only in Queens but were part of the ’60s (Flower Power and protests). Did you do any research about that era to get ready for the role?
Yes! When all the music was written it was influenced by the world around Simon and Garfunkel. So, knowing what that era was all about really informed me about the meaning of a lot of the songs. I also grew up in Queens myself and am very familiar with all the references they make about their birthplace.
- After “The Simon and Garfunkel Story” is there a role you would love to play and why?
Oh man, I don’t know. I think my dream would be if someone wrote a role for me. That would be an awesome experience.
- What is good about being on tour?
The best thing about being on tour for me is just being able to hang out with all of the guys in the band. Over the past year and a half, they have become some of my best friends, and I love doing the show and hanging out on the bus afterward with them.
If you want to take a mind trip down memory lane to the turbulent sixties filled with flower children and great music, don’t miss “The Simon and Garfunkel Story” right here in Washington, D.C.
For information go and tickets for “The Simon and Garfunkel Story” at the National Theatre go online.
For information on the tour dates and venues go to this website.
The National Theatre is located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
Coming up at the National Theatre are “The King’s Speech” and “Bandstand.” Check their website for information about these shows and the rest of this Season.