What is there to say about Billy Crystal that hasn’t already been said? The man has been part of America’s collective comedic consciousness for almost forty years, and is never far away from a TV or movie screen near you. We all know him. Most of us like him. In fact, Crystal is one of those rare performers who is so familiar that it’s easy to take his comedic gifts for granted.
Which is why, if you don’t already have a ticket to Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays , you should try to get one. This is a solo auto-biographical show that Crystal did on Broadway in 2004-5, and is bringing back to Broadway just as soon as he gets done re-polishing his gem here and trying out some new material that may or may not make it to New York.
The show is all everyone has already says it is: hilarious, poignant, touching, etc. But it offers several other rewards as well. One is that it tells you a lot about Billy Crystal that you didn’t know, since it’s about his life before he became “Billy Crystal,” ubiquitous comedian. Another is that it provides an interesting perspective on New York life in the 1950s, particularly the city’s thriving jazz scene, the epicenter of which was a record shop called the Commodore, which was run by Crystal’s father. (The title of the show refers to the approximately 700 Sundays Crystal had with his father before, at age 15, his dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack.) As Crystal tells it, Louis Armstrong was a close family friend, and, between recording sessions, Billie Holiday used to take him to the movies. Old photos and home movies from the family archives add a layer of nostalgic realism to the evening, and the set—a replica of the house in which he grew up—turns the stage into a nifty time machine of sorts.
The other gift Crystal serves up is a reminder of what a consummately professional and accomplished performer he is. Crystal is 65, but his frenetic energy has a timeless quality to it, and he looks pretty much the same as he did 20 or 30 years ago—though, admittedly, that only proves that today’s plastic surgeons and makeup artists have perfected the art of sealing celebrities of a certain age in amber. Have you seen Cher lately?
700 Sundays is essentially a collection of stories and vignettes about Crystal’s life growing up on Long Island, tied loosely together with a narrative arc that runs through the death of Crystal’s father, then—many years later—his mother. It goes without saying that Crystal is a master storyteller, but there are certain bits—Crystal emerging from the womb, imitating a starting car, playing his deaf uncle, who belched and farted at the same time, arguing with his overactive penis—that are carefully crafted comic moments only Crystal could invent or pull off. They also suggest that, as famous and accomplished as Crystal is, he may actually be underrated as an actor/performer.
The version of 700 Sundays Twin Citians are seeing is more than two-and-a-half hours long, owing to the fact that Crystal is trying out some new material. On one hand, this means it’s not as tightly structured as it might be, but it also means you get to hear some more stories, a few of which the folks in New York may never hear. That’s not a bad trade-off. After all, who couldn’t use a few more laughs and a gentle tear or two?
Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays runs through Saturday, Oct. 26, at the State Theatre.