Neil Simon's 31st play, The Dinner Party, opens its Broadway run Oct. 19 at the Music Box Theatre, where Len Cariou, Veanne Cox, Penny Fuller, Jan Maxwell, John Ritter and Henry Winkler sat down for previews beginning Oct. 3.
John Rando directs the new comedy about marriage and divorce, set at an upscale gourmet restaurant in Paris, where a party is being thrown by a well known divorce lawyer. Two tuxedoed strangers meet, and are joined by a third, confused guest. Ex wives soon enter the mix.
The jewelbox Music Box, originally built by Irving Berlin, is said to be the perfect size for Simon's humane, humorous rumination on marriage and relationships, which takes place in the restaurant's private dining room. Regional audiences embraced the play in Los Angeles and Washington DC. In the first 24 hours of ticket sales, the Broadway box office swelled to $100,000.
The play had its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in December 1999 and played an engagement in June and July at the Eisenhower Theatre of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The casting changed slightly in each phase of the production's development.
Emanuel Azenberg, Ira Pittelman, Eric Krebs, Scott Nederlander, ShowOnDemand.com and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum/Gordon Davidson are producing the Broadway run. Designers are John Lee Beatty (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Brian MacDevitt (lighting) and Jon Gottlieb (sound). This is the Broadway debut for director Rando, who helmed Off-Broadway's Mere Mortals and Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight.
All but one in the cast of the recent DC staging will repeat their duties on Broadway. Jan Maxwell (The Sound of Music, A Doll's House) is the company's newcomer. Winkler (TV's "Happy Days"), Cariou (Sweeney Todd), Ritter (TV's "Three's Company"), Cox (Company) and Fuller (Applause) starred in DC as the guests who attend a private dinner party in a chic Paris restaurant. One by one, guests arrive to face an evening of surprises. Answers for the men unfold when ex-wives begin showing up in what has been described as a play by turns hilarious and emotionally honest.
Passersby at the Music Box Theatre reported a line in front of the theatre Sept. 11, the first day of in-person ticket sales for The Dinner Party.
In 24 hours beginning Sept. 10, the comedy about marriage and divorce brought in about $102,000, according to a spokesman for the show. The star-filled play was sold out in its final week in Washington DC.
Lines in front of theatres in the age of phone sales came as a surprise, particularly since the show is a non-musical. Star names, solid notices and sophisticated advertising — the cast in formal wear, an engraved invitation logo — have apparently helped sell Simon's new work.
Cox's credits include daffy turns in Off-Broadway's The Food Chain, Broadway's Company and The Batting Cage (at The Humana Festival), and Fuller may be best known for Applause, and a recent revised revival of Do I Hear a Waltz? at the Grove Street Playhouse in New Jersey.
Jan Maxwell (Dancing at Lughnasa) takes over the role originated by Anette Michelle Sanders in L.A. and D.C.
Ritter, Winkler and Cox starred in the play's Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum world premiere in Los Angeles in December 1999.
The play ended a sold-out final week July 16 at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre. The DC run, June 17-July 16, was produced by The Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum.
Lloyd Rose of The Washington Post, in her review, said it was "Neil Simon in new, dangerous territory" and called the work "laugh out loud funny" and "Simon's emotionally richest play." John Rando's direction "gracefully glides the evening to its sweet yet mournful ending."
The Dinner Party had its world premiere Dec. 2, 1999, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The comedy on marital and romantic themes, set in a private dining room of a chic Parisian restaurant, continued to Jan. 16, and rewrites by the author were said to have continued through the week of Christmas last year.
The L.A. cast included Frances Conroy (The Little Foxes), Cox, Edward Herrmann (Psychopathia Sexualis), Ritter, Los Angeles actress Sanders and Winkler.
Simon's Hotel Suite (a clutch of one-acts) recently played Off Broadway's Gramercy Theatre. Other Simon works include The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Broadway Bound, Biloxi Blues, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Lost in Yonkers.
For tickets to The Dinner Party, call (212) 239 6200. The Music Box is at 239 W. 45th Street.