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Time Warp - Scranton Boasts Long Legacy Of Welcoming Neil Simon Plays

September 5, 2018

Over the years, the plays of the late Neil Simon were a mainstay of the Broadway Theatre League seasons in Scranton. Here is collection of the shows that the league presented over the years at the Masonic Temple.

In 1965, Simon’s newlywed comedy “Barefoot in the Park” was presented on Sept. 24 and 25. Joan McCall starred as Corie Bratter, and Joel Crothers played Paul Bratter. Also appearing were Alan North as the telephone man, Lynn Bari as mother of the bride Mrs. Banks and Woody Romoff as Victor Velasco.

The league brought in “The Odd Couple” twice, with the first appearance on Oct. 7, 1966, with movie actor Lyle Talbot as Felix Ungar and Harvey Stone as Oscar Madison. The second performance came April 15, 1968, this time with Don Ameche and Robert Q. Lewis in the lead roles.

“The Star-Spangled Girl” came to Scranton on Feb. 22, 1969. The play deals with a love triangle between two roommates and a former Olympic swimmer who moves into their apartment building. The tour brought McCall back to Scranton, this time as the swimmer, Sophie Rauschmeyer; Sandy Baron and Lyman Ward played the roommates.

In 1971, the league brought two of Simon’s works — “Plaza Suite” and “Promises, Promises.”

“Plaza Suite” opened its doors April 16 with real-life couple Betty Garrett and Larry Parks in the starring roles. “Promises, Promises” followed on Sept. 16, 1971, featuring music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David. Simon wrote the book for the musical, which was based on the Billy Wilder film “The Apartment” and won former Scranton resident Jerry Orbach a Tony Award for lead actor in 1969. The touring musical starred Will Mackenzie, Sydnee Balaber and Kathy Kallaghan.

The Masonic Temple was at capacity for Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” on Jan. 14, 1972. The show centers on how a man used his mother’s apartment to entertain women and starred Stubby Kaye, Patty Crowe and Pat Benson.

Captivating audiences on Nov. 30, 1973, was husband-and-wife duo Imogene Coca and King Donovan in Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” The pair had previously performed together in Scranton in 1960 in “Once Upon a Mattress,” the first show Broadway Theatre League presented.

“The Sunshine Boys,” Simon’s play about a vaudeville comedy duo, came to the city with a vaudeville legacy of its own on Oct. 12, 1973. Starring in this production were Robert Aldo and Arny Freeman.

The door opened for Simon’s “California Suite” on Sept. 9, 1978. The production starred James Drury, Carolyn Jones, Aurelia De Felice and Peter Bailey-Britton. Drury was known to many from his role on the television show “The Virginian,” while Jones gained fame as Morticia Addams on “The Addams Family.”

When Simon’s “Chapter Two” opened March 22, 1980, it marked the return of a play to the annual Broadway Theatre League lineup. The show deals with a writer starting to date again following the death of his wife. Starring in the lead roles were David Faulkner and Dawn Wells. Wells is best known for her role as Mary Ann on the television show “Gilligan’s Island.”

On Jan. 18, 1985, a young Patrick Dempsey starred as Eugene Jerome in the traveling production of Simon’s play “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” Joining him on the stage were Skye Bassett, Brian Drillinger, Lynn Milgrim, Lisa Waltz, H. Richard Greene and Rocky Parker.

“Lost in Yonkers” hit the boards at the Masonic Temple on April 28, 1992. “Yonkers” deals with two brothers moving in with their cranky grandmother in the 1940s. Mercedes McCambridge portrayed the grandmother on Broadway and the tour.

Simon died Aug. 26 at 91.

Contact the writer: bfulton@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9140;

@TTPagesPast on Twitter

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