When Neil Simon nearly gave up on Broadway

When Neil Simon nearly gave up on Broadway

Neil Simon was probably the most profitable playwright in Broadway historical past, racking up some 9,000 performances — and plenty of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} — with hits reminiscent of “The Odd Couple,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Plaza Suite” and “Misplaced in Yonkers.”

However Simon, who died this week at 91, had flops as effectively. And one in every of them was so painful, it nearly drove him out of the theater.

In 1992, he turned his fashionable 1977 film “The Goodbye Woman” right into a Broadway musical. He teamed up with composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist David Zippel and director Gene Saks, who staged Simon’s celebrated autobiographical trilogy, “Brighton Seaside Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Certain.

With Bernadette Peters and Martin Brief above the title, “The Goodbye Woman” appeared like a winner.

The difficulty set in in the course of the Chicago tryout.

Simon and Saks, whose creative partnership started in 1976 with “California Suite,” clashed over every part: units, musical numbers and Peters’ character, whom Saks feared was unsympathetic.

Richard Dreyfuss, Quinn Cummings and Marsha Mason within the 1977 film model of “The Goodbye Woman.”Everett Assortment

Just a few days earlier than opening in Chicago, on Simon’s orders, the producers fired Saks and changed him with Michael Kidd.

Livid, Saks gave a blistering interview to the Instances. “That is such a damaging act,” he mentioned. “I can not recover from it.”

He blasted Simon’s script, saying Peters’ character was “written in a tarred, callous, somewhat unpleasant manner.”

Then he put within the knife. Working for Simon, he mentioned, was “like servitude.”

The playwright had double-crossed him earlier than, Saks mentioned, and though they’d had loads of success, he by no means thought of Simon a lot of a good friend: “I’ve loved conversations with him. I’ve loved moments of creativity. However I’ve not loved his friendship as a result of I didn’t have it.”

Saks, who died in 2015, by no means labored with Simon once more.

“The Goodbye Woman” lasted solely 5 months on Broadway and misplaced a number of million {dollars}. Simon not often spoke concerning the present, giving it just some pages in his memoirs.

However the ache it precipitated him is obvious in a letter he despatched to a different director, Jerry Zaks, on Nov. 22, 1993. Zaks confirmed me the letter this week.

He’d been directing Simon’s new play, “Laughter on the 23rd Ground,” and Simon was delighted with the manufacturing.

“As I informed you, doing the musical of ‘The Goodbye Woman’ was the nadir of my profession,” Simon wrote.

“Not a lot as a result of the present didn’t work. It may have if it had you. What made me so sad was the non-collaboration of all members. If the method is blocked, the present dies from an absence of oxygen and love.

“I felt crushed up and was significantly considering of giving up the theater. However I had already written ‘Laughter,’ and though I assumed it was actually humorous and that I had nice respect to your work, I questioned if the method can be an excellent one.”

It was greater than good, Simon added: “Attempt fantastic. Attempt ecstatic. Attempt jubilant, joyful, excellent and plus-perfect.”

“Laughter,” about Simon’s experiences working on Sid Caesar’s TV selection exhibits, starred Nathan Lane and was successful, operating for 320 performances.

Its success, and the collaboration with Zaks, restored Simon’s enjoyment of theater, and he went on to put in writing a number of extra performs, together with the underrated “45 Seconds From Broadway.”

“You heard I had a status for desirous to re-direct,” Simon wrote within the letter to Zaks. “I don’t. I would like the director to direct. I like to take a seat in a nook with a pad, write my phrases, give them to you and watch you snort.

“That’s what I love to do.”

You may hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel within the Morning” on WOR radio 710.


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