Legendary playwright Neil Simon paced the back of Emerson’s Colonial Theatre while actors on stage performed “The Odd Couple” for the first time in 1965. This wasn’t unusual for Simon; he often debuted his works in Boston, specifically at the Colonial, before they went to Broadway, and he was known for anxiously traversing the back of the theater while audiences took in his work.
Following the premiere of the show, theater critic Elliot Norton approached Simon and asked why the Pigeon Sisters, a pair of witty siblings, appeared in only one scene. Norton, and others in the audience, took fondly to the characters. After speaking to the critic, Simon returned to the back of the theater and started writing a second scene for the sisters, which appeared in performances of the show moving forward.
Over 50 years later, another Simon comedy, “Plaza Suite,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, continues its run at the Colonial Theatre through Feb. 22. Written in 1971, the show still resonates with audiences, with most shows in Boston sold out or down to limited ticket availability already. Next stop: New York.
At a press event held at the Colonial Friday, Parker and Broderick sat down with Erica Lynn Schwartz, general manager of the Colonial, and Elaine Joyce, the late Simon’s wife, to honor the writer’s legacy.
Parker told the crowd she appreciated the opportunity to “celebrate this extraordinary playwright who we feel so privileged to be trying to do right by every single night, whose words move us, make us laugh, and challenge us.”
Broderick recalled being on hand in 1983 when the Alvin Theatre in New York was renamed the Neil Simon Theatre, joking that since he played Simon in a production once, the theater was named after him.
“I’ve done six scripts of Neil’s, and I can’t believe I get to do it again,” Broderick said. “I love doing it. I love speaking his lines.”
Joyce gave the closing remarks, flipping over the statement she’d prepared and speaking off the cuff, since Parker and Broderick had done the same. Joyce shared memories of her husband and her affection for Parker and Broderick.
“They are pouring their hearts and souls out into this play, and if Neil were here today, he would applaud them so heartily for their work and just love them,” Joyce said. “And of course he’s here. He’s always with me, and besides that, my husband was never one to miss a trip to Boston.”
When she finished speaking, Joyce lifted a piece of teal velvet fabric off a pedestal, revealing two plaques adorned with Simon’s name, one for each side of the back row of the theater where he used to pace during shows.
“If you walk between there and here, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of my beloved Neil,” Joyce said.