Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE, reporting on last night’s official Broadway opening of PLAZA SUITE.
You could stay at New York’s five-star Plaza Hotel, on the south west corner of Central Park South and 5th Avenue, in a couple of Saturday’s time for £669 in the cheapest price I could find online yesterday. Or you could go see the 1968 Neil Simon play, set in the eponymous hotel, on the same night at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway for the same price in dollars: $672 ($649 +$23 service and processing charges). I know $ are still slightly less than £, but that $672 is currently £513.44, so there’s only a modest difference between spending just shy of three hours in a Broadway seat or a whole night in a hotel room. (At least that seat is now a comfortable one: the Hudson has the most expansive and luxurious of any theatre on Broadway).
In the new hyper-inflation protocols of Broadway, theatre has now officially become the preserve of the 1% — or at least for the best seats.
(You can also get a partial view seat in the top balcony for $109 + fees for the same performance, or $129 with an apparently full view).
What’s driving those exorbitant prices? It’s the opportunity, like with the equally overpriced THE MUSIC MAN a few blocks away, to see two beloved Broadway stars back onstage together, in a safe, predictable old classic Broadway property.
This triptych of one-act, mostly two-actor, comedy scenes played out between three different couples — all played by real-life husband and wife team Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, as husband and wife in two of them, in-between a scene that reunites two former High School sweethearts 17 years later, with the man now a hotshot Hollywood producer. It is bookended by an opening scene in which they variously play a wife who discovers on her wedding anniversary night that her husband has been cheating on her with his secretary for three years, while in the concluding act they are a couple trying to coax their daughter out of the bathroom on her wedding day.
As directed by John Benjamin Hickey (who is also an actor, who had a leading role in THE INHERITANCE that began at London’s Young Vic in 2018 before transferring to the West End and then Broadway in 2019) the show is polished but so dated as to be essentially pointless.
TV sitcoms handle these situations with more nuance, subtlety and laughs nowadays; the writing here is occasionally endearing but ultimately indulgent. Yes, Broderick brings his well-honed hangdog shtick to each of his roles that the audience evidently lap up, and Parker is effervescent in a neurotic sort of way. But they’re working overtime to make it funny, instead of allowing the humour to be truly organic.
The creative team is also A-list: the set by John Lee Beatty is the sort that gets entrance applause the moment the curtain goes up, and costumes by Jane Greenwood do the necessary physical transformations to differentiate the characters they each play.
But as amiable and undoubtedly handsome as the evening is, it is hardly the essential Broadway evening that we’ve spent exactly two years waiting to see since it was originally due to open in 2020.
AND THE REST OF THE REVIEWS ARE IN….
At least the reviews are often more fun to read than the show is to watch, allowing critics to hone their barbs as Simon himself might have wished he could. In the New York Observer, David Cote gets in a run of them in his opening sentence:
“I was tempted to invite someone under thirty to PLAZA SUITE just for the blank expressions. Neil Simon! No? The Walter Matthau movie! Nothing? Sarah Jessica Parker! Yeah, that gal from SEX AND THE CITY and the other thing I didn’t see. Broadway often makes me feel older than I am, and this substandard return of a very standard 1968 comedy is no exception.”
His second paragraph continues: “Unless my imaginary millennial’s grandparents forced them to watch VHS tapes of THE ODD COUPLE and THE GOODBYE GIRL, the name Neil Simon probably means nothing to them. His last Broadway hit (LOST IN YONKERS) was during the Clinton Administration; his first was under Kennedy.”
His next paragraph on Matthew Broderick’s “bland, mousy smudge of a performance, squeaking his lines, looking like someone poured pudding in his loafers” is also a classic. But I’m in danger of quoting the entire review now; just read it.
In the New York Times, Jesse Green is similarly on form: “The first thing you see when the curtain goes up on PLAZA SUITE is an aquatint image of that grand hotel in its antique glory. But when it comes to datedness, the faux-French pile that opened its doors in 1907 has nothing on the Neil Simon comedy — itself a faux-French pile — that debuted on Broadway in 1968. Despite the wearying efforts of a likable cast headed by Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, the passage of 54 years is more than enough to reveal the triptych of one-act plays as uninhabitable in 2022…. The grand but dowdy décor of John Lee Beatty’s champagne-colored rooms, along with Jane Greenwood’s transitional costumes (sometimes mod Pucci, sometimes seamed stockings) and Marc Shaiman’s groovy interstitial pop, put a velvet rope around the action to mark it off as a museum piece.”
And in The Guardian, Alexis Soloski, like myself above, also draws comparisons with the titular hotel’s rack rate: “A junior suite at the Plaza Hotel will run you about $1,400 a night. Which makes the $599 that you will spend on an orchestra seat for the Broadway revival of Plaza Suite almost a bargain. Then again, Broadway doesn’t yet include butler service. Or a minibar on the aisle.”
For Broadway News, Naveen Kumar hits the moneyed nail on the head behind the overpriced revival: “Without starry names on the reservation, there would be little to elevate PLAZA SUITE to penthouse prices and sky-high demand. And a stay of its cost and duration ought to deliver a great deal more diversion.”
So ultimately, readers — at least those without tickets —can be relieved at both the money and time they’ve saved, and dispel any lingering FOMO.
In yesterday’s newsletter, I stated that THE FEVER SYNDROME was opening at Hampstead Theatre last night. It has delayed its opening to next Monday (April 4).
SEE YOU ON THURSDAY
If you can’t wait that long, I can also be found regularly on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/.