EXCLUSIVE: A month before previews start on Broadway, the limited run of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite is approaching full occupancy.
The advance sale for the revival with husband-and-wife stars Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker has surpassed $10 million, according to a person familiar with the production. Its tryout at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre ends on Saturday and previews begin on March 13 at the Hudson Theatre.
In response to the strong demand for tickets in Boston and New York, lead producer Ambassador Theatre Group, which operates the Colonial and the Hudson, has already raised prices on Broadway by as much as 150 percent.
A 10th-row center orchestra seat sold in late November for $199 for the evening of April 7. As of Tuesday, the box office was charging $499 for seats in the same row for the same performance.
Simon, who died in 2018, at 91, was the highest-grossing playwright of the 20th century. In December 1966, he had four shows running simultaneously on Broadway. (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity and The Star Spangled Girl. ) When Plaza Suite opened at the Plymouth (now Schoenfeld) Theatre, in February 1968, Clive Barnes in the New York Times predicted that Simon’s three playlets set at the famed New York hotel “will once more set the town laughing.”
It ran for nearly 1,100 performances.
Recent short-lived Broadway revivals of Barefoot in the Park and Brighton Beach Memoirs have raised questions for some about Simon’s continued relevance. This starry Plaza Suite may be critic proof — although Ambassador Theatre Group hasn’t rushed to find out.
Upending a tradition of local critics serving local audiences, ATG invited reviewers from the Boston Globe and other outlets to come on Friday night, a day before Plaza Suite closes in Beantown. ATG also waited until the end of the Boston run of David Byrne’s American Utopia to invite critics.
The Plaza Suite reviews may provide quotes for advertising and help director John Benjamin Hickey fine tune for Broadway, but they aren’t useful for the community. To be sure, at this point, available tickets are few and far between.
ATG, which is owned by the U.S. private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, declined to comment.
“They want to give the production an opportunity to gel,” said Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, a theater professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign who reviews for a local paper and has produced new work at the school. “But it undermines the value that a critic brings to the cultural conversation.”
Plaza Suite has generated multiple feature stories but no early reviews. “I have no problem with buying tickets to review a Broadway-bound show of more substance or newsiness,” wrote Bill Marx, a critic and journalist who oversees the New England site The Arts Fuse, in an email. “But this is just a commercial venture, a celebrity production for Broadway of a dated Neil Simon vehicle … so why bother?”
Broderick and Simon have generally been a winning box office and critical combination. The actor won the first of his two Tony Awards playing Eugene in the original Brighton Beach Memoirs, at age 21. And a 2005 Odd Couple revival, in which he starred opposite Nathan Lane, was a huge hit, even though critics found it lacking.
Parker made her Broadway debut at age 11, in a play called The Innocents, directed by Harold Pinter. A veteran of Broadway and off-Broadway, she became a major star via Sex and the City.
The casting of Broderick and Parker — who’ve been married for 22 years — should add frisson to the first one-act, Visitor from Mamaroneck, about a marriage in trouble.
The #MeToo movement may influence how audiences view Visitor from Hollywood, the second one-act, in which a divorced movie producer invites a star-struck old flame for a private meeting. James Feinberg, a Broadway Journal contributor who caught the show in Boston, said that Broderick played the part as more nerdy than predatory.
The audience at Feinberg’s performance seemed enthralled with Plaza Suite, he said. “They’re having a great time onstage and it’s contagious.”
If the show is well received on Broadway, it might enliven a slow season for drama. Just one play has recouped in 2019-20: Sea Wall/A Life, a pair of monologues starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge, which earned a profit of less than 5 percent, according to an investor. That too was at the Hudson.
Last season, which was exceptional, five plays that opened before year-end became hits: The Boys in the Band, The Lifespan of a Fact, Network, The Ferryman and To Kill a Mockingbird.