Live in Central Park {Revisited}: Simon and Garfunkel

On Sept. 19, 1981, more than 500,000 fans gathered in New York’s Central Park for a reunion of two legends: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. After 10 years apart, the two came together to raise money for the park’s restoration. Decades later, Lee Lessack and Johnny Rodgers, both performing artists in their own right, decided to pay tribute to Simon and Garfunkel, but they wanted something more than a tribute show. Lessack felt he needed a hook, something more specific than a general tribute. “I said, ‘What if we recreate the identical set list they played at Central Park, recreate that moment in time?’” he asked.

The result is Live in Central Park {Revisited}: Simon & Garfunkel. Lessack has stressed that he and Rodgers are not assuming the persons of Simon and Garfunkel and there will be no Gar-funky hair. “We’re using an identical song list, song for song,” Lessack said. “I’m very excited that there was a lot of interest. Most of what I do is The Great American Songbook. I was thrilled to get the interest I did (for this). Personally, I think these songs are standards.”

The play list includes everything from “Mrs. Robinson” to “Scarborough Fair,” “The sound of Silence,” “The 59th St. Bridge song (Feelin’ Groovy)” “Homeward Bound,” “Bridge over Troubled Waters” and “Kodachrome.” The show features more than 20 songs and there is not a bad one in the bunch.

Lessack, a Philadelphia native, attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He fell in love with the theater when he saw Pippin as a gift for his Bar Mitzvah. The show was written by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote Wicked and Godspell. He became a Lessack fan and Schwartz specifically asked for Lessack to work on the soundtrack recording of his Gepetto a Disney television movie. He tours extensively and has released five albums.

Johnny Rodgers was described by Stephen Holden of the New York Times as an “entertainer who has show business in his bones,” with “fused elements of Billy Joel, Peter Allen and Johnny Mercer.” A singer/songwriter, pianist and recording artist, Rodgers has toured the world with his band as music ambassadors for the State Department.

Lessack said that they don’t give a lot of context to the songs because there are just so many of them and it’s about the music. “We talk about what was going on in the country in 1981. The first IBM personal computer came out, Reagan was shot and Beyoncé was born. Then we talk about them as songwriters and there’s some fun stuff and a little trivia. I grew up listening to the album and thought it would be piece of cake. I didn’t know the proper lyrics.”

He knows them now.