NEW YORK — As celebrity supercouples go, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick’s union of nearly 30 years is as low-key as they come. Sure, Parker is a fashion icon thanks to her Emmy-winning role as Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City,” but the longtime Greenwich Village denizens, who’ve been married for 22 years, live a mostly quiet life largely out of the Hollywood spotlight, raising a teenage son and 10-year-old daughters. The duo share a close-knit group of friends and a mutual love of theater and baseball. The Battling Burtons or the Fabulous Lunts they are decidedly not. And unlike those famed acting couples of yesteryear, Broderick and Parker (“SJP” to super-fans everywhere) have rarely worked with each other. The last time they were onstage together? The 1995-96 Broadway revival of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” when Parker joined Broderick during the last four months of the run.
“I’ve been asked a few times, ‘Would you ever do a show with your wife again? You should do a show with your wife,’ ” Broderick says over the phone. “But nobody actually had an idea, and we never even actively looked for it.”
“We’ve been very happy pursuing our careers differently," says Parker in a separate phone conversation. "The only thing we ever talked about was how our work choices were affecting our children. We’ve always tried to make sure we’re not absent at the same time.”
Now, that 23-year drought is about to end, and Boston audiences will get a rare front-row seat to the proceedings. Parker and Broderick are set to reunite onstage in a revival of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” a 1968 triptych of short plays about three different marriages, each taking place in the same hotel room. The production premieres on Broadway in March but will begin its life in a tryout Feb. 5-22 at the Emerson Colonial Theatre.
The show boasts several noteworthy elements. The Colonial is the same theater where “Plaza Suite,” then starring Maureen Stapleton and George C. Scott and directed by Mike Nichols, premiered in 1968 prior to Broadway. At the age of 11, Parker herself appeared in a 1976 production of “The Innocents” at the Colonial before making her Broadway debut in the play (she later went on to star in “Annie,” which launched her to stardom). Meanwhile, Broderick has a long and rich association with Simon, having made both his Broadway and film debuts in the writer’s works (“Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Max Dugan Returns,” respectively), in addition to starring in “Biloxi Blues” and “The Odd Couple.”
But it's the pairing of Parker and Broderick that's generating the most heat.
Even play director John Benjamin Hickey, a close friend of the couple, says he’s caught up in the excitement. After all, the Tony-winning actor (“The Normal Heart”) attended their 1997 wedding. “I just think it will be kind of inescapably delightful for an audience to watch them, if you’re a fan of Matthew and a fan of Sarah Jessica’s and know their history,” he says between bites of a sandwich on a rehearsal break in Manhattan.
As for Broderick, he jokes about disappointing fans or critics. “Hated him, loved her,” he says with a chuckle, of a potential negative reaction, adding wryly, “I’m laughing now, but I won’t be laughing then.”
Parker, 54, acknowledges she and Broderick, 57, “tend to be rather cagey in talking about our marriage.”
“We’re pretty private. But I think people know that I have enormous affection for my husband. I’m proud of him and admire him.” That said, she’s thrilled about diving into this “examination of grown-up relationships, how you conduct them and how people behave in them,” she says. “It’s like a study in sexual politics and marriage at different points in life.”
All three parts of the play are set in Suite 719 of New York City’s famed Plaza Hotel. The first act centers on a long-married couple. The wife, Karen, hopes to inject some passion back into their relationship by luring her husband, Sam, to the suite where they had honeymooned some 24 years before. But her plan backfires. “It’s heartbreaking,” says Parker. “It’s a marriage in crisis, and both of them know it, and they’re not talking about it.”
The second part chronicles a reunion between high school sweethearts — New Jersey housewife Muriel Tate and hotshot Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger. In the third act, middle-aged spouses Roy and Norma Hubley grapple with a crisis involving their daughter, who’s getting married that afternoon at the Plaza. She’s locked herself in the bathroom; her combative parents frantically attempt to coax her out as they turn their increasing ire on each other. “The last play is a wonderful romping farce and ridiculous and funny,” Parker says, “and also about a marriage and how people relate to each other and what works and what doesn’t for each couple.”
While Hickey says there's a technical quality to the comic timing and rat-a-tat rhythms of Simon's writing, "it's not just math," he insists. "Without the heart and soul that's in Neil's writing, without discovering that and cracking that open, the comedy means nothing. So it's this combination of brilliant craftsmanship married to real pain and truth."
The production resulted from a play-reading series Hickey was asked to curate at Symphony Space, a Manhattan performing arts center. When he asked Parker and Broderick to participate, they all began looking around for potential plays. They coalesced around the Simon canon and specifically “Plaza Suite,” on the suggestion of their close friend, “Hairspray” lyricist Scott Wittman. That idea dovetailed well with Broderick’s close connection to Simon. “We were really delighted by it and had a rollicking good time,” Parker recalls. “It surfaced in a sort of surprising way, like ‘Well, maybe we should really think about doing this.’ The next thing we knew, we were hearing from producers wanting to have that conversation — and now here we are.”
"We've kind of fallen into this much more easily than I thought," Hickey says of rehearsals. "You have a shorthand as old friends and as people who have been married to each other. But you don't let the shorthand become a shortcut. I think we're more demanding of each other, knowing each other as well as we do."
Broderick may forever be Ferris Bueller to some fans, but as a two-time Tony-winning Broadway star known for shows like “The Producers” and “The Odd Couple,” he’s a creature of the theater. And he credits Simon for helping to launch his career. “I didn’t know him well. But in some ways, I feel like I knew him better because of his writing and just from playing him,” he says, referring to character Eugene in Simon’s semiautobiographical plays “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Biloxi Blues.” “He would tell me which part of those stories really happened and what didn’t, and I got to know him a little bit that way.”
As for the connection between the famous spouses and their roles, Parker responds, “I don’t know that you have to draw on your own marriage just because we’re a married couple playing a married couple.”
Indeed, Hickey cautions, "You're not automatically going to be good, simply because you're married to each other."
Parker points out that she usually plays characters vastly different from herself. “It’s our job to understand the characters or respect or convey their feelings in the most honest way we can, whether or not we relate to them. So I haven’t actually once thought about my marriage as I’m running these lines or thinking about the parts. Because these characters are not me. My life has been completely different than all these people. They don’t feel familiar to me — and in a good way.”
As a director, though, Hickey hopes to tap into the audience’s affection for the duo, as part of what he calls the play’s “meditation on middle age.”
“Matthew and Sarah have been together a long time now, and they’re a different age than when we first started watching them,” he says. “So we’ve seen them grow up, as individuals, as stars, as actors, as a couple.
“It’s just so great to see these two actors, who are both extraordinary on their own and happen to be married to each other, together doing this play about marriage. So I think the meta thing has to be celebrated.”
At Emerson Colonial Theatre, Feb. 5-22. Tickets start at $59.50, 888-616-0272, www.emersoncolonialtheatre.com