By Susannah Whitman
You don’t have to head to New York to see Broadway Bound—you just need to make the short drive to the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, where the Neil Simon Festival is putting on a brilliant production. The Neil Simon Festival happens annually in Cedar City, but luckily for us here in northern Utah, they’re doing a short run of one of their productions at the Egyptian.
Broadway Bound is the third and final chapter in the “Eugene Trilogy,” Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical series of plays. But you don’t need to have seen Brighton Beach Memoirs or Biloxi Blues to appreciate Broadway Bound. It stands on its own two feet. Adult brothers Eugene (Trevor Messenger) and Stan (Christopher Whiteside) live at home with their no-nonsense mother Kate (Kirsten Sham), their mostly absent father Jack (Peter Sham), and their curmudgeonly grandfather Ben (Richard Bugg.) Kate’s sister Blanche (Alyson King), now married to a rich garment district tycoon, makes an occasional visit out to the old family home. Eugene and Stan hate their day jobs and have dreams of being a comedy writing team, so when they get a chance to “audition” their work at a CBS radio show, they throw themselves into the task. But while Eugene and Stan’s comedy careers are taking off, their family is falling apart around them. It’s a self-aware little play—Eugene often turns and addresses the audience directly, commenting on what’s happening onstage. The script has all of the zippy dialogue you’d expect from a Neil Simon play, which helps to soften some of the heartbreak of the story, creating a poignant and moving show.
Bugg is a delightful, elderly grump as Grandpa Ben, and his timing is impeccable in both humorous and serious moments. Neil Simon’s work demands a sort of rhythmic dance through the dialogue, and Bugg hit all the right notes. King is an elegant Blanche, who has learned to hide her blue collar ways under white collar (or mink collar, as the case may be) clothes. Her refinement slowly crumbles away in her scenes with Bugg, as she becomes more vulnerable and angry. Peter Sham is a deeply sympathetic Jack, who has spent his entire life making sacrifices for a family and a life that have not fulfilled him. Peter Sham’s performance is moving and honest, especially in his moments of hurt and anger. Whiteside is wonderful as the slightly neurotic Stan, and his quirks and worries endeared him to us as the audience.
Truly stand out performances come from Messenger and Kirsten Sham. Messenger is charismatic, funny, and confident as the narrator Eugene. He truly connects with both his fellow actors and the audience. He makes strong and effective choices, and while he’s a strong comedic actor, his work is deeply moving in his more serious scenes. Kirsten Sham’s rough, matter-of-fact manner as the matriarch of the Jerome household is a formidable force. As the play goes on, we slowly see her become more and more vulnerable, which makes her tough exterior all the more dimensional. The scene in the second act, in which she tells the story of dancing at the Primrose is the equivalent of a musical theatre showstopper. Kirsten Sham truly shone in those moments.
The technical elements of the show are simple. The set designed by Randy Lawrence Seely had nice levels, and its warm colors create the sense of a working class home. It’s not too shabby, but it’s clear that everything in the rooms had to be worked for. Lighting design by Rebekah Bugg created effective shifts for when Eugene broke the 4th wall. Costumes by Jen Bach were perfect for the time period, and Kate’s elegant dress in Act II is so good that it should have its own bio.
When you arrive at the Egyptian, plan to spend a few minutes (and a few dollars) on parking. There’s a lot to see and do in Park City, and historic downtown is usually pretty busy, so plan ahead. This show only has a very short run in this neck of the woods, so hurry and catch this stunning production before it closes. I’m notoriously stingy about giving standing ovations, but I leapt to my feet at the end of this show.
The Neil Simon Festival presents Broadway Bound by Neil Simon Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main Street, Park City UT 84060 August 18 – 20 8:00 PM TICKETS: Wednesday & Thursday $15 House / $19 Front-of-House / $25 Cabaret
Friday – Sunday: $19 House / $23 Front-of-House / $29 Cabaret Contact: 435.649.9371 firstname.lastname@example.org