Service of Can You Go Home Again? Do Revivals Work for Businesses Like FAO Schwarz or the Playboy Club or Comedies?

September 4th, 2018

Categories: Broadway, Movies, Passe, Retail, Revival, Television, Theatre

Photo: Pix11.com

I’m intrigued by the concept of revivals. Two once successful businesses that closed are attempting them now–FAO Schwarz and the Playboy Club—and a prominent theater critic wrote in his Neil Simon obit that they don’t work when it comes to comedy.

Charles Passy covered the Schwarz and Playboy stories in Wall Street Journal articles, “FAO Schwarz Is Set to Return, And It Needs People to Dance on the ‘Big’ Piano– Midtown Manhattan store will be staffed with demonstrators, magicians and men and women playing costumed roles, including toy soldiers” and “Playboy Club Returns to New York, Bunnies and All, but Will It Hop? Industry experts question if the club’s concept will still work, as it comes back to the Big Apple after a three-decade absence.

Hugh Hefner and bunnies. Photo: Oldlarestaurants.com

I have memories of both. On a visit to FAO Schwarz with a first grade classmate and her mother the girl pointed to Santa and reported to my six year old self that he didn’t exist. I attribute happier recollections of the store with gift reconnaissance for my nephews. As for the Playboy Club, it paid bunny wait staff four times what other jobs I’d applied for after college offered. The reaction I’d expected from my father—he’d had a fit when he learned I’d modeled fully clothed for an art class—was only one of several good reasons I didn’t pursue the opportunity.

Terry Teachout’s Neil Simon obituary began “All comedy dates, and every pure comedian sooner or later becomes passé—even one as beloved as Neil Simon.” After “Lost in Yonkers,” wrote Teachout in The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Simon would never again write a full-fledged box-office smash, and none of his plays has since been successfully revived on Broadway save as a star vehicle. His last bow there as a playwright, a 2009 revival of ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ directed by David Cromer, closed after nine performances.”

Photo: Playbill

Teachout observed: “And while his plays remain popular with amateur troupes and smaller companies elsewhere in America, most of the major regional theaters tend to steer clear of his work.”

In an op-ed piece in the same paper associate editorial features editor Matthew Hennessey wrote that theater today is “dominated by crowd-pleasing jukebox musicals and adaptations of popular movies. In the last few decades of the 20th century, Simon, who died Sunday at 91, was a household name.” Broadwayworld.com proved Hennessey’s assertion. A headline last week was “Jerry Zaks will bring Mrs. Doubtfire musical to Broadway.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Hennessey continued: Simon’s “domination of the Great White Way from the 1960s through the ’80s has no contemporary comparison. The current toast of Broadway, ‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, has staged two original hit shows in a decade. In 1966 Simon had four plays running in Broadway houses at the same time.”

Do you think that FAO Schwarz and Playboy Clubs will/can fit today’s customers? What about revivals of once popular comedies–do they all become passé? Perhaps “Mash” and “Honeymooners” fans, or those who tune in to the TV version of “The Odd Couple” –derived from Simon’s play–don’t buy tickets to Broadway or major regional company theaters because they are simply too old or too poor? Or maybe laughter is out of fashion on the Great White Way?

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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8 Responses to “Service of Can You Go Home Again? Do Revivals Work for Businesses Like FAO Schwarz or the Playboy Club or Comedies?”

  1. JBS Said:

    Tickets here [Minneapolis] to anything are outrageously expensive. I pick and choose carefully so that I don’t break the bank. I know they are even more expensive in NYC. I did get tickets to the road-show, “Hamilton.” Couldn’t miss that one, And I was able to get tickets by calling in on the day they became available, so didn’t have to pay a premium for resale. They still were $150, far more than any other show, plus of course all the damn fees they tack on.

    I might pay for a revival of a comedy, but I adore musicals and usually save my money for them. If the Guthrie stages it, the tickets wouldn’t be that expensive. I’ve gone to several shows there and they do an excellent job. I took my granddaughter to a musical there, but now that she is a teenager she doesn’t want to be seen with her grandmother! I offered to invite her to another, after she clearly enjoyed the first one, even suggesting that I ask again, but during the 18 months that passed she got into her teens and passed the up opportunity. She will outgrow this stage; her cousin, my grandson, has.

  2. ASK Said:

    Once a big fan of the “Honeymooners,” I no longer watch the reruns; I find the humor and situations dated. I can’t say the same for “Mash,” certain episodes continue to leave me in stitches, perhaps because of the off-beat and erudite humor, such as plays on words, puns, or ridiculous contrasts. The only character I didn’t like was Major Burns…nobody could be that hapless or unlikeable. Even the actor Larry Linville allegedly found his character too unsympathetic. As to FAO Schwarz making a comeback, maybe…sounds like it’s going to be as much about entertainment as toys. Anything to pull the kids away from their screens. The Playboy Club is another story…I can see the picket lines already, unless they are planning to be gentlemen’s clubs, cigar-bar type establishments, you know, like the ones that advertise on side panels of NYC busses.

    Finally, I rarely go to Broadway shows anymore…the ticket prices and seating comfort are ridiculous.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS,

    I like musicals but prefer comedies so cancel each other out!

    In NYC garage parking anywhere, especially around Broadway, is ridiculously expensive and adds considerably to the cost of a ticket for out of towners. We have great off Broadway productions that are within the realm of possible–especially when you consider a movie ticket here starts at $15+. There are amateur theater groups that produce remarkable performances.

    I laughed when I read about your granddaughter! She is a typical teen for which you must be grateful.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    I watched only a few minutes of the 2015 revival of the TV “Odd Couple” and found it sterile. It lasted 3 seasons so what do I know.

    I don’t look for “The Honeymooners” but if in flipping I land on it, I’ll watch. I still enjoy it and the memory of my father also enjoying it which struck me funny as it wasn’t my idea of something he’d like.

    “MASH” is so well written and poignant. I also didn’t like the Major Burns character but I knew just such people as a military wife. One night we were leaving the officers club and in the lobby, drunk as a skunk, was an NCO. He wasn’t supposed to be there. I don’t recall why he was there…it didn’t matter really. I do recall we liked the man and he was on his way out as were we.

    On our way back to our house on base–we were walking–we heard brakes and a car come to a screeching stop next to us. Out of the window popped the head of OUR Major Burns–an Air Force captain on the base police force who lived across the street from us. “DID YOU SEE A SERGEANT IN THE CLUB? I GOT A CALL THERE WAS A SERGEANT IN THE OFFICER’S CLUB!!!!!” he said as though he’d learned there was a terrorist on base. My husband said, “Nope. Goodnight.”

    As for the bunnies….My parents had a friend with a great sense of humor. He described a restaurant he dropped in on in NJ that tried to copy the Playboy bunny waitress model. He described the waitresses as “more like hares than bunnies.” But to your point, isn’t Hooters still around?

  5. Protius Said:

    Obviously, customs and tastes change geographically, as demographics evolve, as customs and beliefs evolve and as economies expand or contract. What is funny today was not funny yesterday and will not be tomorrow.

    My grandfather loved Conan Doyle’s historical novels; people today may know that he created Sherlock Holmes, but not that he wrote “Sir Nigel” and “The White Company.” I loved Booth Tarkington’s “Penrod” stories; my grandsons had never even heard of him.

    My parents didn’t look at TV, indeed they didn’t even own a set. I grew up not watching it regularly until I was in my 30’s. Our news came from newspapers. It was a very different world, and I’ll admit I miss it and why I enjoy seeing “Casablanca” over and over again, but not the inane marketing drivel that spews endlessly forth from hundreds of TV channels 24 hours a day.

    As to the Playboy Clubs, the concept may have worked for a while before “fem lib,” and equal opportunity, but between the pill and the sexual revolution, I sure wouldn’t invest in it today.

    As to Neil Simon, like Oscar Wilde from the 19th century, I think his best work will be remembered and revived from time to time. Like the “Honeymooners,” it was that good and deserves to be. I’m glad you took the trouble of writing about him on the occasion of his passing.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Protius,

    How gracious to mention Oscar Wilde, whose “Importance of Being Earnest” inspired the play on words title of my blog. I have a Google alert on the blog title and weekly pick up links to countless college papers about that play. I imagine that after a while a theater company no longer has to pay the author or his or her estate much to put on a play which might also ensure the chances of revivals. Amateur theaters like the St. Bart’s players in NYC have on occasion chosen to revive Simon’s plays and I have enjoyed each one.

    It’s more than customs or tastes but references in a comedy that get lost in time. The Santini Brothers Moving and Storage, which advertised a lot and was mentioned in Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” might fall on flat ears today although I checked and they, or a version of them, are still in business. Jack Lemon said, “It took the Santini Brothers three days to move us in and the robbers 20 minutes to move us out.” I love to see that movie every few years.

    I can watch Simon’s “The Goodbye Girl” again and again. There are films like that. Casablanca, though not a comedy, captures your attention every time it’s on as you wrote. What do your grandchildren think of it?

    As a young and middle aged adult I wasn’t at home to watch the 6 O’clock TV news any more than I am now; at 11 I found much of it unsettling so I didn’t watch then and only when in a hotel do I turn on TV in the morning so I never depended on TV for news. I looked to newspapers and in the day, when I didn’t live in NYC, Time Magazine. Today I am riveted to MSNBC and CNN when I get home and wish that it wasn’t the case. I suppose it offers the same attraction as watching an accident happen, though I admit I don’t have the guts for the latter and turn away when passing the smashup and police cars when on a road. In addition to news alerts online, I also read the newspaper version of The Wall Street Journal.

  7. ASK Said:

    Jeanne: I’m not sure about Hooters still being around; the one near our house at the shore, closed a while ago. Oh, and didn’t everyone go for the great burgers?

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    Still giggling. But of course! Pass the ketchup.

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