The Neil Simon tragedy.


Now there’s a word rarely uttered when speaking of one of the greatest comic minds of the century.

Unfortunately, Broadway hasn’t been kind to Mr. Simon lately.

Prior to Brighton Beach, post-9/11 Broadway had seen productions of a the original 45 Seconds From Broadway as well as revivals of Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity and The Odd Couple.

The Odd Couple, with Broderick and Lane, is the only one of those that recouped, but it wasn’t the smash that everyone had expected it to be.

Sweet Charity sneaked out a seven month run, but Barefoot, and now Brighton and Broadway, were unfortunate disappointments.


Well, Mr. Simon, to use hackneyed break-up phraseology, it’s not you.  It’s us.

Our tastes have changed. In fact, perhaps it was 9/11, or perhaps it was Jon and Kate plus Stupid, or perhaps it’s the economic crisis, that turned our taste buds a little more acidic.

Neil Simon’s plays are classics, but no matter how great the productions may be (and I heard Brighton was fantastic, especially under the gentle hand of David Cromer), today’s audiences just don’t take to them the way they used to.

Our taste in television comedies has changed over the last twenty-five years, so as much as I was pulling for this double-feature, it’s no surprise to me that our taste in theatrical comedies has changed as well.

In my opinion . . . Yasmina Reza is the modern day Neil Simon.  Belly laugh funny with a bite.

Now let’s see if Promises, Promises can break this streak. I know I’m pulling for it.  I mean, come on, it’s got a song called, “She Likes Basketball!”

  • Dr. Cashmere says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with your diagnosis. It may be that “our tastes” have changed. But the bigger change is who buys a ticket to Broadway now versus the past. In other words, it’s the Broadway brand that has changed.
    25 years ago, middle-aged, theatre-interested upper middle class New Yorkers and suburbanites bought tickets to Broadway one play at a time. Those people haven’t all died off. Thousands and thousands of them go to the theatre as much as ever. It’s just that they now get their theatre fix as subscribers at the Roundabout, MTC, etc. And those organizations produce plenty of middlebrow work (in Broadway houses!) and attract very respectable audience for that work.
    So the problem with this production wasn’t that the audience no longer exists. The problem was that it was built as a commercial venture pitched to a tourist-heavy audience.
    If the goal had been serving the art and the audience rather than trying to make money, it would have survived and, I’d argue, probably thrived.

  • Alex says:

    Have you seen this Riedel article about the closing?
    If his information about the exclusive advertising agreement is true, I think that definitely played a major role in the production’s swift demise. I understand that the NY Times reaches a very important market, but to exclude all other advertising venues until opening night seems incredibly foolish on the part of the show’s producers.
    Any thoughts on this?

  • CLJ says:

    Man, I hope that Reidel story isn’t true. Advertising in only a single publication? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. You can’t spread the word by keeping it confined.
    That aside, it might have had a hard time, not due to its writing, or the lack of “star-power,’ or even its “remote” location in the middle of Manhattan, but because of the very subject: looking back to the good ol’ days of the Depression. We’re kinda in the middle of one of those right now; I think most of us want to escape the realities of dealing with a depressed and depressing economy.

  • Richard says:

    I am not known for being phlegmatic in my opinions. I think Dr. Cashmere’s analysis is brilliantly pinpointed, but misses the forest for the trees. The problem with the production was that (1) films exist of both and (2) the audience for straight plays has been significantly smaller than that for musicals for something like 25 years, and (3) the plays themseles are brilliant slices of life, but are not edgy enough for a NY audience that goes to non-musicals.
    Only huge blockbusters that become so by being very edgy or having very big names will recoup…if they’re non-musical plays.
    I also don’t understand Cashmere’s point that the show might have thrived if it were produced by a NFP, and implicitly, then, made an object of art. I don’t know what it means to thrive if you start with the proposition that the show doesn’t have to make money. It seems like a silly paradigm for the practice of any effort. Besides, when was theater ever NOT about commerce? Let’s not be naive.
    “Promises, Promises” is an interesting case. Clearly successful in its original run, it has maybe three good songs. But that’s not even a handicap anymore. Who writes really good scores anymore? The only way this revival will succeed if the director makes the show sexy in a way that is relevant to the modern audience, and just as importantly, makes it sexy in a way that challenges the way the audience thinks of what is sexy. Modern audiences can get titillated by farce-like situations all they want from television. They need a twist to make them believe they’re seeing something they can’t get elsewhere.

  • dan mason says:

    I actually just had a “will it recoup” discussion about “Promises, Promises” last week. Essentially, the producers are taking the combination of a Neil Simon script, a broadway actress loved and adored by the entire theater community (Chenowith), and a once successful tv actor who has fallen off the radar (Sean Hayes) and banking on it to be successful.
    The last time I remember seeing that formula it was Simon, Bernadette Peters, and Martin Short in “The Goodbye Girl”. And well, we all know how that worked out. PS- anyone who saw Sean Hayes in “Damn Yankees” at Encores will attest to the fact that he’s nowhere on the same level as Martin Short.
    The Broadway Theater is a huge space with a lot of seats to fill. I’m not saying that the show will flop. In fact, I’m hoping it doesnt’. I’m just saying that I’m glad that I’m not an investor in the project

  • Is it possible that it actually is Simon? Listen, the fact is that writing doesn’t always stand the test of time. There are so many artists that were super-famous during their time but are now obscure that you could actually write a blog about them and never run out of references. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the audience in this case for a work no longer resonating. There are so many examples of plays that stand the test of time and still sell big that I really do think it would be fair to blame the content in these cases.

  • Scott says:

    And why didn’t the producers sell tickets to the second show at a discount to those who bought the first show, like THE NORMAN CONQUESTS? Hello? A package deal?
    As for PROMISES… no, the show and the original movie are of their time period. Start making it “sexy” and you throw the tone off, like injecting feminism into HOW TO SUCCEED (remember the last revival? ugh.) or commenting on, instead of playing the 50s, in the last DAMN YANKEES B’way revival.

  • dan mason says:

    Fierce and Nerdy makes an excellent point. It’s been 15 years since I read Brighton Beach, so I can’t speak specifically about that show. However, “Sweet Charity” is a dated piece that has not stood the test of time, even with a pretty good cast and director on that revival a few years back. In my day job (music industry) we see the same things. Whitney Houston just put out a “comeback” album that nobody cared about, even though there was some good material from good songwriters. Whitney’s time passed almost 20 years ago. Maybe Neil Simon’s window has closed as well??

  • That’s a great point about the Whitney album, dan. Her “comeback” was interesting, b/c she attempted to conduct it just as she would have before her series of unfortunate events (Bobby Brown, drug habit, compromised singing voice, et al). Getting her makeup together, an interview with Oprah, and engaging hit writers wasn’t enough. I actually think she would have been better served drumming up interest by starring in a Broadway show or getting a blog or doing something different that would engage the young music buyers of today.
    As Neil Simon is proving, same ole, same ole, just doesn’t cut it in some cases.

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