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Mr. Saturday Night

  • Theater, Musicals
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew MurphyMr. Saturday Night

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Broadway review by Adam Feldman

Billy Crystal talks loudly and carries a big shtick in Mr. Saturday Night, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. In this musical adaptation of his 1992 film, Crystal stars as a dried-up nightclub comic named Buddy Young Jr.—an ironic name, since he’s far from young, and he’s never been anybody's buddy. He’s a tough cut of brisket, and decades after a career-ending tirade on live TV in the 1950s, he’s been reduced to grouchy gigs on the Jewish retirement-home circuit. (“Don’t get me started!” is his starting line.) But when his face mistakenly pops up in an awards-show In Memoriam sequence, Young gets a chance to revive his career from the dead. Can he seize it? Or will he be his own schlemiel yet again?

Thirty years ago, Crystal wore aging makeup to play this role on film. He doesn’t need it anymore, but he never really did: He has Buddy in his bones. Crystal has been playing this alter kocker alter ego since at least Saturday Night Live in 1985, and Buddy's type of Catskills-and-Friars-Club cut-up is embedded in his comic style: He has deep affection and respect for the generation of comedians that Buddy represents, and he keeps their spirit alive in his timing, his rhythms, his soulful aggression. (“Happy anniversary. Forty-five years!” Buddy tells his wife. “Eleven of the best years of my life.”) In Mr. Saturday Night he honors their history with a sweet, slight, nostalgic musical comedy.

Mr. Saturday Night | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy

Crystal has adapted the book from his own screenplay with his original writing partners, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; the new score features jaunty tunes by Jason Robert Brown and lightly blue lyrics by Amanda Green. The songs fulfill their brief efficiently or better, and Crystal sings credibly within his range, buttressed well by Broadway-musical veterans Randy Graff as his patient wife and Shoshana Bean as his resentful daughter. Best of all, as Buddy’s doormat of a manager and brother, the show has the wonderful David Paymer, who snagged a well-deserved Oscar nomination for playing the same role in 1992 and with whom Crystal has a rich and believable rapport. 

By Broadway standards, Mr. Saturday is a modest little show. In John Rando’s production, there are only four other actors: Chasten Harmon as Buddy’s green new agent, and Jordan Gelber, Mylinda Hull and Brian Gonzales as everyone else. Everything about it is resolutely old-fashioned—in some ways it’s a celebration of oldness itself—and it's not long on drama. (We don't even get to see the big flashback meltdown scene.) But it delivers exactly what it promises: Crystal, completely in his element, with a crowd that is more than happy to buy what he’s selling. He’s the cream in the borscht, the schmaltz in the gribenes, and his prodigious charm makes Mr. Saturday Night a very haimish experience. If you have a taste for this sort of thing, the show is—o Lord of old comics, forgive me for what I’m about to write—the show is a Crystal ball.

Mr. Saturday Night. Nederlander Theatre (Broadway). Book by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Music by Jason Robert Brown. Lyrics by Amanda Green. Directed by John Rando. With Crystal, David Paymer, Randy Graff, Shoshana Bean, Chasten Harmon. Running time: 2hrs 35mins. One intermission. 

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Mr. Saturday Night | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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