Two years after its original planned run, the new Broadway production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, led by Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, is finally in residence at the Hudson Theatre. Happily, it was worth the wait. The show packs moments that are gleefully LOL, is deeper than you might expect, and the real-life married stars co-piloting this vintage vehicle are in fine form.
A 1968 Best Play Tony Award nominee, the show consists of three one-acts about marriage. Each playlet, set in the late ’60s, concerns a different couple occupying room 719 of New York’s luxurious Plaza Hotel. Sam and Karen Nash, suburban spouses revisiting where they honeymooned two decades earlier, are up first. Jesse Kiplinger, a hotshot Hollywood producer and multiple divorcé, reunites with Muriel Tate, his now-married ex-girlfriend, in Act 2. In the third part, Roy and Norma Hubley deal with their daughter’s cold feet about tying the knot.
Simon, who died in 2018, is an award-winning king of comedy whose characters come with complex emotions. Besides landing laughs with his zingers and sight gags involving shoes, telephones, eye droppers, and freak thunderstorms, Simon tapped the heart with situations and issues that matter to actual people. As Plaza Suite progresses from one act to the next, the mood shifts from seriousness to pure sitcom silliness. Tone-setting music by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray) precedes each part like a melodic amuse bouche.
Parker, an actress with stage roots (Annie, Sylvia), a rich movie resume, and icon status thanks to Sex and the City, is typically at her best when her characters are most at sea. She shines especially bright as the anxious Karen, who’s reckoning with the reality of her marriage. As Muriel, a middle-aged woman obsessed with Tinseltown and loopy from vodka stingers, Parker lets her flirty, flighty side fly. Her antics as Norma recall I Love Lucy — and that’s a compliment.
Broderick’s link to Simon reaches back to Brighton Beach Memoirs, his 1983 Tony-winning Broadway debut. The actor’s signature deadpan and sometimes whiny delivery works like a charm as the buttoned-up, age-conscious Sam. Broderick cranks up the goofy as the awkwardly seductive Jesse, and his go-for-broke strategy in playing the frantic father of the bride is big fun. After trying — and failing — to bust down a door, Roy’s meek cry for help is hilarious.
In his Broadway debut as a director, Tony-winning actor John Benjamin Hickey (The Normal Heart) displays a deft hand and sure instincts. He keeps the pacing brisk, while his smart tweak to the end of Act 2 is a playful and up-to-date improvement to the original script.
Strong work by the cast, which includes Danny Bolero, Molly Ranson, and Eric Wiegand (Cesar J. Rosado covered his part at my performance), is matched by the production team. John Lee Beatty’s set summons a hotel room that reeks floor-to-ceiling chic, while Jane Greenwood’s Pucci- and Gucci-infused costumes fit the period. Brian MacDevitt lends evocative lighting, Scott Lehrer’s sound design lets punchlines squarely land, and Tom Watson’s wigs spark a chuckle or two on their own.
Amid many memorable lines, one by Karen Nash that comes about two minutes into the show has been playing on a loop in my head. “Old is no good anymore,” she says. Sorry, Karen, you’re wrong. This 54-year-old comedy may be no spring chicken, but it’s good enough to be one of Broadway’s biggest events of the season.
Photo credit: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite. (Photo by Joan Marcus)