I can't believe it. I saw the Broadway revival of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs a week ago tonight and now, a provisional closing notice has been posted for Sunday. Its companion, Broadway Bound, which I was so looking forward to seeing, has been canceled. I feel like crying.
Why can't a play with so much humor and heart, with a terrific cast, find an audience? I mean, newcomer Noah Robbins is hilarious and sweet as Simon's teenage alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome. And Laurie Metcalf exudes so much strength in a memorable performance as his mother, Kate.
Last week, Brighton Beach Memoirs could fill just 61 percent of the 1,200 seats at the Nederlander Theatre, with an average paid admission of only $21. 32. With lackluster ticket sales, the producers simply couldn't justify spending any more money, a source told The New York Times.
The original production opened in 1983 and ran for three years, making a star out of Matthew Broderick, who garnered a Tony award. What happened this time?
Are fans of Neil Simon simply dying out and not being replaced, as David Edelstein implies in New York magazine? Edelstein admits that Simon's plays "connected with their audience on a level that theater almost never does anymore" but questions whether they can be made to seem fresh or new.
I disagree. I think director David Cromer brought a level of depth and understanding to Brighton Beach Memoirs that I wasn't expecting. The story of a struggling Jewish family during the Depression seemed so relevant. It wasn't at all an exercise in nostalgia. (And as I said in my review, you didn't have to be Jewish to relate.)
According to the most recent statistics from the League of American Theatre Producers, tourists purchased about 65 percent of the nearly 12.3 million tickets sold to Broadway shows. And foreign tourists comprised more than 15 percent of attendees.
That's great for the New York City economy but not so good for those of us who love plays and don't care whether or not there's a famous face in the cast.
President and Mrs. Obama's trip to see Joe Turner's Come and Gone in the spring is the exception to the rule - it seems like most people come to Broadway these days to see a musical or someone they recognize from movies or television.
I guess the issue is closer to what producer David Richenthal told The New York Times earlier in the week about casting Abigail Breslin as Helen Keller in a Broadway revival of The Miracle Worker:
“It’s simply naïve to think that in this day and age, you’ll be able to sell tickets to a play revival solely on the potential of the production to be a great show or on the potential for an unknown actress to give a breakthrough performance. I would consider it financially irresponsible to approach a major revival without making a serious effort to get a star.”
Hey, I'm not knocking it. Those tourists pay salaries and keep thousands of small businesses afloat. I love seeing musicals and big stars, too. But we're pretty close to the point where Broadway consists of musicals and limited runs of plays with celebrities.
As a fan of 20th century American drama who always hopes to discover a great performance by an actor who's unknown to me, that makes me sad.