By Jeffrey Burke
Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Wearing dark slacks and a blue shirt, Paul Simon walked onstage to a standing ovation at the reopening Friday night of Manhattan´s landmark Beacon Theatre after extensive renovations.
The capacity crowd of 2,800 included Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, Whoopi Goldberg, James Gandolfini, Jimmy Fallon, Rosie O´Donnell and other celebrities. The 67-year-old troubadour gave a two-hour tour of a rich, familiar songbook and a surprise coda.
Simon opened with ´Gumboots´ (´You don´t feel you could love me´) from his best-selling album, ´Graceland,´ and followed it with another crowd-pleaser, ´The Boy in the Bubble.´ After ´Slip Slidin´ Away,´ the laconic artist spoke beyond thank-yous for the first time.
´The Dolans did an incredible, incredible job on this house,´ Simon said, referring to the family that controls Cablevision Systems Corp., parent of the company that operates the theater, Madison Square Entertainment. Then he asked that the house lights be turned on so the audience could look around.
The many Art Deco, Araby embellishments of a venue once dubbed ´Baghdad on Broadway´ have been cleaned or restored. The result has a Hollywood backlot feel, an incongruously opulent swirl of faux and real draperies, marble and gold leaf, enormous murals, bas-relief lions and two giant gold-painted warriors flanking the stage.
The many well-dressed couples with V.I.P. tags sat in seats that cost, if paid for, as much as $274. And what seats: plush red, wide to the hips and spaced for legroom even a 6-foot-2 reviewer could slouch into.
I found another part of the Beacon story before the show by the red carpet, where I chatted with a professional photographer named Sonia Moskowitz. She mentioned that her family had a real- estate company, Argo Corp., with an interest in the theater and the surrounding Beacon Hotel.
The connection stemmed from her Polish-born father, Henry, who survived internment in the Ravensbrueck and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. His wife, daughter, father, mother, brother and other family members were all killed in the war. He remarried and moved to New York, had more children and did well in real estate for years, and then died last September at the age of 102.
´My face, my race. Don´t matter anymore.´
The words are from ´Proof,´ the next song. The set moved on through ´Train in the Distance´ and ´Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,´ which brought much of the crowd to its feet, before it grew quiet for ´Lincoln Duncan.´
Simon´s voice, a reliable tenor, was strong and supple. The tight backing ensemble varied from seven to nine, depending on additional horns. The new sound system delivered crispness and balance at perfect volume. Small variations from the recorded hits showed Simon still enjoyed tweaking them and showcased the band´s versatility, especially on vocals.
He brought out Brazilian-born singer Luciana Souza for what proved to be several uneven duets, with the exception of a recent composition called ´Amulet.´ Simon hadn´t written words yet, but Souza deftly wove legato scatting through the guitarist´s intricate jazz and flamenco elements.
After a break, Simon returned with a doo-wop group that performed songs from ´Capeman,´ his unsuccessful Broadway musical. These didn´t strike me as very distinguished examples of a genre I´m fond of, though the performers sang with verve. To put it another way, let´s get back to the good stuff we all know.
Simon, a seasoned performer, did just that. The next six numbers contained two more from ´Graceland,´ the title cut and ´Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,´ as well as ´Loves Me Like a Rock´ and a spirited ´Late in the Evening´ for encore.
In what would have been a second encore, Simon returned alone to say, ´Ladies and gentleman, my old friend Art Garfunkel.´ The audience roared its delight as the tall, still- lean figure appeared in blue denims, white shirt and brown vest, his gingery Afro sitting farther back from his brow.
Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1941 and raised in Queens, New York, Simon became friends with Garfunkel during a school production of ´Alice in Wonderland´ where Simon played the White Rabbit and Garfunkel, the Cheshire Cat. Simon won one of his 12 Grammys, a Lifetime Achievement award in 2003, for the duo´s work. He has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock ´n´ Roll Hall of Fame. In 2007 he received the first annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
The well-known harmonies of tunes written in the 1960s floated through ´The Sound of Silence,´ ´The Boxer´ and of course ´Old Friends´: ´Time it was and what a time it was.´
And then it was time to go home.
(Jeffrey Burke is an editor with Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)