REVIEW: Billy Crystal Deserves Better Than ‘Mr. Saturday Night’


Mr. Saturday Night | 2 hours 35 minutes | Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St. | 212-921-8000 | TICKETS

Mr. Saturday Night, the new Broadway musical starring Billy Crystal based on the 1992 movie that marked his screen directorial debut, is a waiting game.  You wait for a reason why a beloved comic would spend 30 years obsessed with improving a mediocre idea.  You wait for a fresh joke, a hint of originality, or a song that might not remind you of a dozen songs you’ve heard before.  You wait for a flash of the special talent that has made Billy Crystal a comic legend.  You wait for a scene or a sequence to deter you from checking your watch to see how long you’ve been sitting there.  You wait for something to happen.  You wait.

     Alas, despite the charm of a star from yesterday, nothing ever happens.  Mr. Crystal can sing, dance a little and invoke polite applause from pensioners old enough to remember vintage television shows from the 1940s and early ‘50s like the Colgate Comedy Hour.  But the looks of incredulity on the faces of baffled youngsters in the audience beg the question, “What the fuck is going on here?”  What transpires is a nostalgic look backwards at an era that only lives today on YouTube.  The sets by Scott Pask, with walls of photos of Johnny Carson, Betty White, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers and other comedy legends nobody under 20 remembers, the show has the right ambience, and the character Mr. Crystal has created for himself (with co-writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) brings back memories of genuine laughter as Buddy Young, Jr., once a master of insult humor and salty one-liners, now a washed-up has-been whose career has been reduced to occasional gigs on the retirement-home circuit.  Miserable but unable to retire gracefully from a world of comedy that no longer exists, Buddy moves between flashbacks to the “good old days” and today, when he’s just a memory few people remember.  Briefly you feel sorry for his sad predicament—until the fact comes to light that he was always a mean-spirited, self-destructive S.O.B. who abused his own loyal, long-suffering wife Elaine (a marvelously steadfast Randy Graff) and resentful, unforgiving daughter Susan (Shoshana Bean) and deceived and betrayed everyone who ever helped him, including his older brother, one-time partner and ex-manager Stan (the great character actor David Paymer), who now lives in Florida with his grandchildren and a new girlfriend. When Buddy’s death is accidentally announced on the Emmy Awards, it’s show-business news, the “Today” show invites him on the next morning, and Buddy’s forgotten career is suddenly reactivated with the help of a feisty, ambitious young agent determined to revive his stardom.  The arc of the show follows everyone who loves him as Buddy repeats all of his old mistakes, ignores their attempts to help him (“My opening act was one Eddie Fisher—now I should take advice from this pisher?”), pushes them away, and ruins his career all over again—a laborious process that takes the entire second act to accomplish.  His redemption, in time for a last-minute happy ending, blooms too late to revitalize the 2 and 1/2 hours that precede it.

      Meanwhile, it must be said that Billy Crystal provides himself with enough high points to remind his fans why he is himself a comedy highlight in every venture.  He scat sings like Ella Fitzgerald.  The applause is justified when he does a Bronx parody of Saturday Night Fever in a hilarious skit called “Disco Jew”.  He does a deliberately incomprehensible imitation of Marlon Brando called “Under the Waterfront”.  He’s still a very amusing fellow when his material allows.  Unfortunately, most of the old Catskill jokes fall flatter than a soggy matzoh.  When he insults his own audience with pokes like “They’re still sitting Shiva for Lincoln” and “a few of them are still exhausted from building the pyramids”, people yell back “Oy” and “Vay”, but the jokes lie there, waiting for artificial resuscitation.

       Whatever charm exists in Mr. Saturday Night is due to Mr. Crystal, but even he needs proper material.  But his book is little more than a rehash of the stale material comics did for years on Saturday nights at Grossinger’s.  The result is a half-baked tribute to a bygone era Neil Simon did with more energy in The Sunshine Boys—minus the corny routines and mediocre songsWhen the show really percolates, the length doesn’t matter.  When you’re in the audience of a flop, it seems to go on forever. Mr. Saturday Night is 2 and 1/2 hours that seem like 10.  I’m still waiting for a Billy Crystal vehicle that really deserves him.You wait for a fresh joke, a hint of originality, or a song that might not remind you of a dozen songs you’ve heard before.  You wait for a flash of the special talent that has made Billy Crystal a comic legend.  You wait for a scene or a sequence to deter you from checking your watch to see how long you’ve been sitting there.  You wait for something to happen.  You wait.

     Alas, despite the charm of a star from yesterday, nothing ever happens.  Mr. Crystal can sing, dance a little and invoke polite applause from pensioners old enough to remember vintage television shows from the 1940s and early ‘50s like the Colgate Comedy Hour.  But the looks of incredulity on the faces of baffled youngsters in the audience beg the question, “What the fuck is going on here?”  What transpires is a nostalgic look backwards at an era that only lives today on YouTube.  The sets by Scott Pask, with walls of photos of Johnny Carson, Betty White, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers and other comedy legends nobody under 20 remembers, the show has the right ambience, and the character Mr. Crystal has created for himself (with co-writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) brings back memories of genuine laughter as Buddy Young, Jr., once a master of insult humor and salty one-liners, now a washed-up has-been whose career has been reduced to occasional gigs on the retirement-home circuit.  Miserable but unable to retire gracefully from a world of comedy that no longer exists, Buddy moves between flashbacks to the “good old days” and today, when he’s just a memory few people remember.  Briefly you feel sorry for his sad predicament—until the fact comes to light that he was always a mean-spirited, self-destructive S.O.B. who abused his own loyal, long-suffering wife Elaine (a marvelously steadfast Randy Graff) and resentful, unforgiving daughter Susan (Shoshana Bean) and deceived and betrayed everyone who ever helped him, including his older brother, one-time partner and ex-manager Stan (the great character actor David Paymer), who now lives in Florida with his grandchildren and a new girlfriend. When Buddy’s death is accidentally announced on the Emmy Awards, it’s show-business news, the “Today” show invites him on the next morning, and Buddy’s forgotten career is suddenly reactivated with the help of a feisty, ambitious young agent determined to revive his stardom.  The arc of the show follows everyone who loves him as Buddy repeats all of his old mistakes, ignores their attempts to help him (“My opening act was one Eddie Fisher—now I should take advice from this pisher?”), pushes them away, and ruins his career all over again—a laborious process that takes the entire second act to accomplish.  His redemption, in time for a last-minute happy ending, blooms too late to revitalize the 2 and 1/2 hours that precede it.

      Meanwhile, it must be said that Billy Crystal provides himself with enough high points to remind his fans why he is himself a comedy highlight in every venture.  He scat sings like Ella Fitzgerald.  The applause is justified when he does a Bronx parody of Saturday Night Fever in a hilarious skit called “Disco Jew”.  He does a deliberately incomprehensible imitation of Marlon Brando called “Under the Waterfront”.  He’s still a very amusing fellow when his material allows.  Unfortunately, most of the old Catskill jokes fall flatter than a soggy matzoh.  When he insults his own audience with pokes like “They’re still sitting Shiva for Lincoln” and “a few of them are still exhausted from building the pyramids”, people yell back “Oy” and “Vay”, but the jokes lie there, waiting for artificial resuscitation.

       Whatever charm exists in Mr. Saturday Night is due to Mr. Crystal, but even he needs proper material.  But his book is little more than a rehash of the stale material comics did for years on Saturday nights at Grossinger’s.  The result is a half-baked tribute to a bygone era Neil Simon did with more energy in The Sunshine Boys—minus the corny routines and mediocre songsWhen the show really percolates, the length doesn’t matter.  When you’re in the audience of a flop, it seems to go on forever. Mr. Saturday Night is 2 and 1/2 hours that seem like 10.  I’m still waiting for a Billy Crystal vehicle that really deserves him.

 

Review: Billy Crystal Deserves Better Than ‘Mr. Saturday Night’


Source : https://observer.com/2022/04/review-billy-crystal-deserves-better-than-mr-saturday-night/

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