Neil Simon 'dumbfounded' after play flops

The old trouper's classic coming-of-age comedy goes prematurely dark as rival shows with big-name stars lure punters away

It was meant to be a flattering season for Neil Simon, the 82-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning father of situation comedy on the American stage and screen. His semi-autobiographical play Brighton Beach Memoirs opened to fine reviews in New York 10 days ago and next up, in the same theatre, was its companion piece, Broadway Bound.

But bound to nowhere is the reality now, as producers and directors on the Great White Way yesterday digested the shocking news that Memoirs – first performed in 1983 and made into a film in 1986 – had been shuttered over the weekend because of desultory box-office takings. Broadway Bound, which was to open with many of the same actors this month, will now not open at all.

"A lot of nice people on stage and off will be out of work and a lot of good partners and investors will have lost a great deal of money," producers Emanuel Azenberg and Ira Pittelman said in a statement as the marquee at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street went prematurely dark. "They all deserve better. It makes us sad."

Equally dismayed was the author, who has never had the experience of seeing one of his works shut down in such haste and with so little ceremony. "I'm dumbfounded," he told The New York Times. "After all these years, I still don't get how Broadway works or what to make of our culture."

The flop cast a chilly shadow over Broadway, which has otherwise been enjoying a decent season in spite of the state of the economy.

But, while box-office averages are actually higher overall than this time a year ago, the numbers are being skewed by two or three must-see shows with big-name stars that may in fact be leaching audiences from other productions, the Simon ones included.

It has raised speculation that putting on straight plays on Broadway without attaching big names is becoming too precarious to contemplate for producers and their investors.

The best-known cast member in the Simon plays was Laurie Metcalf, a respected actress best known for her role in the long-defunct Roseanne TV show.

Metcalf, however, is not a Daniel Craig, or a Hugh Jackman, whose star wattage is helping the producers of A Steady Rain attract more than $1m (£600,000) in receipts every week at the moment.

Nor is she Jude Law, who is similarly spinning gold in the production of Hamlet that transferred here from London. Similarly successful has been God of Carnage, written by Yasmina Reza and staring James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame. It could be, of course, that the comedic sensibilities of Simon, whose mega-hits include Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, The Owl and the Pussycat and California Suite, are out of tune with a generation brought up on reality television.