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Authentic harmonies: Performer Andrew Wade works to bring music of Simon and Garfunkel to younger generations in ‘Story’

Andrew Wade and George Clements star in “The Simon and Garfunkel Story.” (Lane Peters / Lane Peters)
Andrew Wade and George Clements star in “The Simon and Garfunkel Story.” (Lane Peters / Lane Peters)

No matter how many other songs performer Andrew Wade sings in his career, it’s unlikely they’ll replace the two songs that have been inextricably ingrained into his head: “The Sound of Silence” and “The Boxer.”

Wade plays Art Garfunkel in “The Simon and Garfunkel Story,” which is at the First Interstate Center for the Arts on Wednesday. After reaching the final round of auditions for the part, Wade and the other potential Garfunkels were paired with potential Paul Simons and asked to sing “The Sound of Silence” and “The Boxer” over and over again.

“We were probably singing those two songs for five hours until it was down to just two of us at the end,” he said. But the repetition paid off, as Wade was selected, along with George Clements as Simon, to lead “The Simon and Garfunkel Story.”

The musical premiered in London’s West End and has now been seen in 50 countries. The concert-style show tells the story of how the duo became the household names they are, from their time as Tom and Jerry and their meteoric rise to their breakup in 1970 and reunion concert in Central Park in 1981, through video projection, lighting, a live band and, of course, some of Simon and Garfunkel’s most popular songs including “Mrs. Robinson,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Homeward Bound,” “Scarborough Fair,” “The Boxer” and “The Sound of Silence.”

Wade was born in Seattle and moved to Portland when he was a child. After graduating from the University of Portland, Wade made his way to New York. His résumé includes roles in “The Office: A Musical Parody,” “West Side Story,” “Little Women,” “Jersey Boys,” “Rent,” “Ghost,” “Smoke on the Mountain” and “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Around the same time “The Simon and Garfunkel Story” launched its first North American tour, Wade was performing on a cruise ship. He expressed interest in playing Garfunkel and was asked to send in an audition tape, but he couldn’t make the show work with his cruise ship performances.

But for the show’s third North American tour, the timing was right, and, after that final five-hour audition, Wade received the part of Garfunkel. Wade estimates that before joining the show, he knew the “eight to 10” Simon and Garfunkel songs most people know, but he wasn’t as familiar with the deeper cuts or the musicians as individuals.

To prepare for the role, Wade watched countless interviews and hours of video of the live performances, including the Central Park concert.

“To find those idiosyncrasies and physicality and performance styles these guys had,” Wade said. “Our show is a concert-style show, so there’s not a lot of time to really tell the story while you’re portraying them. It’s harder to do that because we do so many songs rather than having the character interaction. Being able to find the place within the music and that performance to share who these men are is important.”

While watching interviews, Wade was struck by one in which Garfunkel said he knew he had a special voice when he was 4 years old.

“That’s someone who has never one time in their life doubted their capabilities,” Wade said. “That’s someone who has supreme confidence every time he goes out there to sing. There’s never any doubt in his head that it’s going to be well-received, it’s going to be loved, and he’s going to be able to share his gift with these people. Someone with that mindset approaches the performance differently than someone who doesn’t have that supreme confidence.”

Wade then, of course, had to finetune the art of singing like Garfunkel, which he called light, airy and angelic.

“Something that George and I pride ourselves on is giving that authentic sound,” he said. “We’re not Simon and Garfunkel, but we’re the next best thing, I think. This group and the band is unbelievable, and we’ve got some beautiful projections that really help tell the story of their lives. It was the music of that era, so to be able to tell that story through Vietnam and the hippie movement and all the stuff that came with their burgeoning stardom.”

Wade and Clements split Simon and Garfunkel duties on the North American tour with Taylor Bloom and Benjamin Cooley, giving the performers time to rest their voices and have time off during the show’s run, which began in September and runs through June.

After taking the summer off, Wade will be back in “The Simon and Garfunkel Story,” which has already been booked through January of next year.

The demand for this show stems, Wade believes, from the fact that Simon and Garfunkel created the music of the generation and were as big or bigger than the Beatles in the U.S. during the British Invasion.

“What we get to do is sing these songs that were part of the daily lives and really major moments in peoples’ lives, the people who lived through that era, and we get to breathe new life into these songs for people of a younger generation who maybe aren’t as familiar with them, or even people in their 50s who know Simon and Garfunkel very well but don’t know the context of their story,” he said.

“We obviously appeal to a little bit of an older generation because of the music, but we get a lot of young people coming in, too, who absolutely love it, and I think it’s important to keep this duo’s music alive.”

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