Chi ‘London’ Run Not So Sweet

“London Suite” has checked out of the Windy City earlier than the show’s producers, Michael Leavitt and Fox Theatricals, had hoped. The Chi edition of the Neil Simon comedy folded Nov. 26 at the 500-seat Briar Street Theatre, less than two months after it opened to mixed to negative reviews. The show recouped only about 10% of its $300,000 capitalization.

“We could have run the show to the end of the year,” said Leavitt, “but we had Jackie Mason waiting in the wings.” The comic began performances of “Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect” on Nov. 28, and the show is expected to run at least through the Christmas holiday.

“London Suite” had by far the most disappointing reception of the three Simon plays Leavitt and Fox have produced commercially in the Chi market. The show opened with an advance that Leavitt characterized as “not huge,” and tickets sales weren’t building adequately to guarantee the production would survive into January or February. Leavitt and Fox opted to end the run rather than mount an expensive marketing campaign to try to boost sales.

Fox and Leavitt had better luck with Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” which ran for more than nine months at the Briar Street and just about broke even on its $350,000 investment.

The Leavitt/Fox production of “Lost in Yonkers” garnered strong reviews and ran 19 months. “Yonkers'” backers doubled their investment of approximately $380,000.

Leavitt says he decided to present “London Suite” even though the show received lukewarm reviews Off Broadway, where it also had a briefer-than-expected run. “We wanted to continue our relationship with Neil, and we felt it was important to do a new Simon play in Chicago.” Simon and Leavitt, who also directed the Chi production of “London Suite,” toyed briefly with changing the show in Chicago by dropping one of the four playlets in the New York production, called “Settling Accounts,” and adding a new one, “The Book Tour.”

Explained Simon: “‘Settling Accounts’ was one of the high spots of the evening when the show tried out in Seattle, but audiences didn’t seem to respond to it in New York.”

But after the Chicago cast of “London Suite” read through “The Book Tour,” Leavitt and Simon decided to do the show with only three pieces.

“Michael couldn’t find the right actors for the new piece,” Simon said, “and it would have taken too long to rehearse.”

Simon said he liked the New York production in general better than the Chicago version because “in New York we had a real terrific group of actors.”

Simon has written yet another playlet for “London Suite” that will be included in a television version of the work set to shoot in London next spring. Simon doesn’t know yet whether the “London Suite” script will be published, or which pieces would be included in any published version.

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