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 Neil Simon's The Dinner Party, which begins previews Oct. 3 toward an Oct. 19 opening.
Since phone sales began Sept. 10, the comedy about marriage and divorce has brought in about $102,000, according to a spokesman for the show. The star-filled play, directed by John Rando, already has a sold-out Washington DC run behind it.
Lines in front of theatres in the age of phone sales come as a surprise, particularly when 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 31st play, about a Parisian dinner party where divorced couples reunite. The comedy stars John Ritter, Henry Winkler, Len Cariou, Jan Maxwell, Penny Fuller and Veanne Cox. It started life in December 1999 at the Mark Taper Forum, with a somewhat different cast.
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 private dining room of a Paris restaurant. All but one in the cast of the recent DC staging, at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre, will repeat their duties on Broadway. Jan Maxwell (The Sound of Music) is the company's newcomer. Henry Winkler (TV's "Happy Days"), Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd), John Ritter (TV's "Three's Company") 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. Rando makes his Broadway directing debut.
Emanuel Azenberg, Ira Pittelman, Eric Krebs, Scott Nederlander, ShowOnDemand.com and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum/Gordon Davidson are producing the Broadway run.
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?
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.
Simon's 31st play is set in Paris at an upscale gourmet restaurant 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.
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 Broadway Bound, Biloxi Blues, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Lost in Yonkers.Brighton Beach Memoirs will get a Coconut Grove Playhouse revival in Miami before coming to Broadway in 2001.
For tickets to The Dinner Party, call (212) 239-6200. The Music Box is at 239 W. 45th Street.