The Neil Simon Festival will present two Neil Simon comedies, "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," above, and "Star-Spangled Girl" at the
The Neil Simon Festival will present two Neil Simon comedies, "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," above, and "Star-Spangled Girl" at the Egyptian Theatre. The productions will leap-frog each other throughout the next couple of weeks. (Courtesy of the Neil Simon Festival)
Park City will receive a double shot of Neil Simon comedy this month.

The chuckles will when the Neil Simon Festival brings "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" and "Star-Spangled Girl" to the Egyptian Theatre this weekend.

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor" will open on Thursday, Aug. 14, and "Star-Spangled Girl" will open on Saturday, Aug. 16. The two productions will leap-frog throughout the month, said Richard Bugg, executive director of the Neil Simon Festival in Cedar City.

"We talked with [Egyptian Theatre manager] Randy Barton about trying something like this," Bugg said during a phone interview with The Park Record. "We wanted to bring two separate shows in our repertory during the same time."

So, Bugg and his crew designed these shows so they shared elements of the sets.

"That way it would be feasible for us to squish those plays around in that small theater," he said. "We've been presenting them in our season in Cedar City for the past five weeks so they're both polished for us to put them on the stage up in Park City."

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is based on Simon's experiences working on Sid Caesar's "Your Shows of Shows" in the 1950s, Bugg said.

"As Neil Simon got older, he began reflecting on his life and wrote some autobiographical plays," Bugg explained. "In the early 1990s, he decided to write about his experiences on 'Your Show of Shows.' Neil and his brother Danny both worked as writers for the program.


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The Simon brothers had wanted to become comedy writers so their father introduced them to some producers in the Catskills, Bugg said.

"They would go and try to sell jokes to the comedians with some success," he said. "After World War II, they started getting their sketches on the radio and that led them to be hired on 'Your Show of Shows.'"

The brothers became junior writers and were surrounded every day by some of the greatest comedy minds in the world, according to Bugg.

"These minds, such as Mel Brooks, helped define our American sense of humor," he said. "So Neil decided to write about that."

Bugg believes "Laugher on the 23rd Floor" is the funniest play Simon has ever written. "When I was reading it last year to decide if we were going to produce it, I sat in my office and literally fell out of the chair laughing," he said. "It is such a funny play,"

However, it does contain some strong profanity," Bugg cautioned.

"When you get a lot of comedy writers together in a room, the language does fly," he said. "I don't think he throws it in there gratuitously. I just think it's part of their humor and it does work pretty well. And Neil Simon has made it clear that all of his plays have to be presented as they are written. So I don't want the audience to be surprised."

The play will also be performed by some talented actors from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Salt Lake and Southern Utah, Bugg said.

"Clarence Gilyard, who the Park City audience has seen over the past couple of seasons, is directing the play for us," he said. "Clarence worked with some great comedy minds in Hollywood and learned that comic rhythm and applies it to the show.

"We were also fortunate to get Peter Sham this year," Bugg said. "He's well-known in Utah and worked for 11 years at the Shakespeare Festival and is a colleague of mine at Southern Utah University."

Sham is an internationally known writer and lyricist for many musicals including 'Lend Me a Tenor,' which opened in London's West End a couple of years ago and is heading to Broadway, Bugg said.

"He wanted to join us because our company is growing," Bugg explained. "But he was also interested in playing Max Prince, who is based on Sid Caesar. Peter is remarkably funny, but there is some great talent in the cast."

When it came time to select "Star-Spangled Girl," which is one of Simon's lesser-known plays, Bugg based his decision on two things — finances and familiarity.

"A lot of the decision making is financial, I have to admit and we have to find shows that work with a company that isn't very large," he said. "I like the play, and we have produced it before."

Still, "Star-Spangled Girl," which is set in the late 1960s, is a little dated in terms of relationships between men and women, Bugg said.

"Our culture has changed quite a bit from when the play takes place, and you have to step carefully," he said.

The production is still a delightful story, Bugg said.

"It's about a couple of radical and liberal guys who are trying to publish a protest magazine in the 1960s and a girl moves in next door and they hire her," he said. "She is an all-American southern girl who was a former Olympic swimmer, and has opposite political points of view than the guys."

That's where the conflict comes in.

"They clash a lot, and yet, you see there is an undeniable attraction between them and they have to learn to respect each other," Bugg said.

Deciding to perform "Star-Spangled Girl" was timely, since next week marks the 45th anniversary of Woodstock and CNN is currently broadcasting Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's 10-part series, "The Sixties."

"Peter Sham is directing this one for us and I think he's made it successfully for a modern audience, so I hope everyone will enjoy it," Bugg said. "I just hope people join us. These are fun shows and they will get a sense of that Simon rhythm that has made him so famous."

The Neil Simon Festival will present "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Aug. 14-15 and 23-24. Curtain for Aug. 14, 15 and 23 is 8 p.m. Curtain for Aug. 24 is 6 p.m. There will also be a matinee on Aug. 23 at 4 p.m. The company will also perform Neil Simon's "Star-Spangled Girl" on Aug. 16-17 and 21-22. Evening curtain for Aug. 16, 21 and 22 is 8 p.m. Curtain for Aug. 17 is 6 p.m., and there will be a 4 p.m. matinee on Aug. 16. Tickets range from $19 to $35 and they can be purchased by visiting www.parkcityshows.com .