Some say it's Cedar City's "other festival."
Clarence Gilyard, known for his roles in "Matlock" and "Walker, Texas Ranger," has his own description of The Neil Simon Festival a Utah treasure.
The festival begins its 11th season Wednesday, July 10, with three plays by one of America's most popular playwrights "The Sunshine Boys," "45 Seconds from Broadway" and "Lost in Yonkers."
The schedule also includes the first professional production of the musical "Song-Poems Wanted!", the inaugural winner of the Neil Simon Festival New Play Contest in 2011.
In "The Sunshine Boys," Eddie Mekka and David Meyers portray an old vaudeville duo whose 43 year-old act fell apart because of disputes. A television special prompts them to come back together, which brings back floods of memories and laughs.
Mekka, known as Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa on the 1970s TV comedy "Laverne & Shirley," plays Willie Clark. Meyers, who plays Al Lewis, is a noted company member of many regional theaters and had roles in "Men of Honor" with Robert DeNiro and "Firefox" with Clint Eastwood.
The performance is a perfect fit for the duo, said Richard Bugg, founder of the Neil Simon Festival. Bugg wanted to put on the play for some time, but waited until he could cast the right pair. The director is Gilyard, a theater professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Another comedy, "45 Seconds from Broadway," is about a coffee shop near Broadway in New York City. It's one of Simon's least successful plays, but offers classic one-liners and an air of seriousness when its main character, a comedian, is asked to help his nephew become a comedian as well.
On the more serious side is "Lost in Yonkers," arguably Simon's most successful work as it won a 1991 Pulitzer Prize. Set in the 1940s, it follows the life of a young boy whose father goes away to work and leaves his two sons with their grandmother. The older boy goes through a coming-of-age experience and is tasked with taking care of his younger brother.
"You'll get plenty of laughter" from the comedies, said Bugg, who also is directing "Lost in Yonkers." "But this one touches you to the core."
The final offering, "Song Poems Wanted!", is the work of Theatre Building Chicago, which follows the lives of people who write song poems and why they do it.
Bugg hopes attendance at the 2013 festival continues to increase as it has over the years. While the festival went through some tough times financially, Bugg said it's slowly getting better and there are now regular attendees from as far away as New Jersey.
"I think Neil Simon is a national treasure," he said. "He has a very unique rhythm to his writing and has an understanding in American culture. His plays are very universal and I think 200 years from now we will be still producing his works."
The Neil Simon Festival
When • July 10 through Aug 10
Where • The Heritage Theater, 105 N. 100 East, Cedar City
Tickets • $21-$26; 435-267-0194 or Simonfest.org