Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Christine Baranski, Elizabeth Ashley, Sarah Jessica Parker, Stockard Channing, and Marsha Mason were among the friends and family members who turned out Thursday evening to observe Broadway’s ultimate tribute to a fallen legend: the dimming of the lights in honor of prolific playwright Neil Simon.
Simon, who died Sunday at the age of 91, was remembered with warmth and affection at a memorial service held Thursday afternoon at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on the Upper East Side. Attendees then made the trek down to Sardi’s, the famed Main Stem eatery, for a reception.
At 6:30 p.m. ET sharp, the group made their way out of the restaurant and across the Shubert Alley connecting 44th and 45th streets for prime viewing of the Great White Way’s marquee lights going dark for a minute in tribute to the scribe behind “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” and numerous other hits. Others spotted in the crowd included Joyce Van Patten, Lee Grant, and director Rob Marshall.
Speakers at the service included Lane, Broderick, Baranski, longtime Simon publicist Bill Evans, and Simon daughters Ellen Simon and Nancy Simon.
“It was beautiful, simple, and very moving,” said actor John Slattery of the memorial service. Slattery, who attended with his wife, actor Talia Balsam, co-starred in the Broadway production of Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” in 1993.
Richard Benjamin, veteran director and actor who worked with Simon on several stage and film projects, said the service was notable because “everybody spoke so well.” The celebration of Simon’s life reinforced his incredible legacy as a scribe active in stage, film, and TV. “We will not see his like again,” Benjamin said.
Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, echoed that sentiment. “He made an impact like no other,” she said. The legacy of Simon’s work and generosity was evident in how many attendees credited his productions with changing the course of their careers.
James L. Nederlander, president of Broadway’s powerhouse Nederlander Organization, ticked off Simon’s impressive stats: “He wrote 32 plays, and 17 were hits. Let’s try duplicating that again,” he said. “You could feel the love. And you know (Simon) was there taking notes.”