Late in the Evening: The World According to Paul Simon
Review by ANTHONY CHASE
Late in the Evening: The World According to Paul Simon is a celebration of the music of the titular songwriter/singer. Songs by Simon, both familiar and more obscure (or as obscure as a Paul Simon song can be) are interpreted and choreographed by Michael Walline, in collaboration with music director Zak Ward.
Walline is a brilliant artist whose vision for this choreographed sequence of Paul Simon songs is powerful, thoughtful, and emotionally intense.
The production uses the narrative of the life of a homeless veteran character, also played by Ward to provide continuity to the succession of songs. Each new song is suggested when a postcard is handed to Mr. Ward’s character, most vividly by his childhood self, evoking a memory from his past. The arch of the song sequence is the story of this lonely veteran's life, with flashbacks to his past, punctuated with historic events, specifically the Freedom Riders and Vietnam.
Song by song, we move our way up to the present, with an implied message of hope and human compassion. The effect is a string of pearls that, while not always matched, is each beautiful on its own.
The show brings together a capable ensemble of performers who, in addition to Ward, include remarkable Terrie Ann George in her return to the stage after several years’ absence. Robert Insana, a mainstay of Buffalo’s musical theater stages for many years is also featured. In addition, the company includes child actor Noah Bielecki, musician Cathy Carfagna, acrobatic Timmy Goodman, Dudney Joseph, Jr., Dominique Kempf, Bob Mazierski, Sean Murphy, and Emily Prucha.
The implicit challenge in presenting new work is that what gets mapped out on paper is never exactly what bursts into life on the stage. I would imagine that as this show came into shape, the creators began to reappraise the work, and to contemplate future revisions. What we saw on opening night was uniformly good, with some obvious opportunity for further development.
At its best, the show is simple and intimate. The overall impact is surprisingly somber. Some of the more literal interpretations are especially heavy handed and distract from the otherwise intimate tone. But song by song, the evening is a feast of music and dance.
The production boasts another marvelous set by talented Lynne Koscielniak. We start in an urban outdoor shopping area, where the lonely musician tries to earn tips from passing shoppers. Box-like structures with strings of postcards suspended in vertical lines evoke a landscape of shop windows and sidewalks. The movable set pieces are reconfigured to become other locations. At one point we are transported to his boyhood home, and eventually the boxes become the cars of a train that races into his life’s journey. In addition to being visually arresting, the set affords Walline the space he needs to stage the dancing.
In essence “Late in the Evening: the World According to Paul Simon,” gives us superior dancing and a luxurious succession of terrific Paul Simon songs: “Kodachrome,” “I Am a Rock,” “Me and Julio,” “Graceland,” “The Obvious Child,” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “Diamonds on the soles of her Shoes,” and of course, “Late in the Evening” among them.