Adapted from the original 1992 film (which received mixed reviews and did not do well at the box office when it premiered 30 years ago), Mr Saturday night is now, surprisingly, a Broadway musical. Written by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (book), three-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown (music) and Tony nominee Amanda Green (lyrics), the star vehicle once again stars Crystal as the unreservedly snappy Comedian Buddy Young, Jr. — a grumpy alum who made it big in the 1950s with his popular TV show but now does his snarky stand-up act for elderly residents of retirement homes.
While at home watching the 1994 Emmy Awards with his wife Elaine, Buddy finds himself on the “In Memoriam” section of the show, which – since he’s not actually dead (he only knows about his career and his connections with his brother Stan and his daughter Susan, with his uncompromisingly egomaniacal attitude) – leading to renewed attention and opportunities to revitalize himself in showbiz and heal the wounds he has inflicted on his family. Will he succeed or will his aggressive, self-centered personality get the better of him? No major spoiler alert: it’s a vintage musical comedy, so of course it has an incredibly forced happy ending.
If you’re a long-time Billy Crystal fan or can’t get enough of outdated slur comedy and jokes about death, aging, incontinence, feces and genitals, this is the show for you. Not known for Broadway-quality singing or dancing, Crystal is in his element doing the stand-up routines that are central to the story and directly addressing and interacting with the audience (enlisted to playing the audience at Buddy’s shows). , and delivered his stock lines “Don’t let me start,” “Hurt her,” and “See what I did there?” with his impeccable comic timing milking it to the end of the extended laugh and applause, which he demands and for which he waits (which also extends the already long running time of more than two and a half hours).
Directed by Tony Award winner John Rando, the narrative moves back and forth between Buddy’s shows at senior citizen centers, the reported death, and the potential in time and place (evoked by Scott Pask’s scenic design, lighting by Kenneth Posner, and sound by Kai Harada). Revival in 1994 and flashbacks to his big break, heyday on TV and in the Catskills and downfall in the 1940s and 50s, while also following the subplot of a long-standing family dysfunction. And it includes a full score (orchestration and arrangements by Brown, and musical direction by David O) with goofy song-and-dance numbers (choreographed by Ellenore Scott) reminiscent of the early days of television, and haunting ballads that unnecessarily repeat the characters obvious feelings that are repeatedly expressed in the dialogue. Perhaps a play with music just to complement the TV and stand-up comedy routines would have been more effective (and shorter – “See what I did?”) than a musical.
The supporting cast are David Paymer, who reprises his original Oscar-nominated film role as Stan, Buddy’s estranged older brother and long-suffering manager who only returns to NYC from Florida because he believes he’s dead; Randy Graff as Elaine, who encourages him throughout their 45-year marriage while ignoring her daughter too often and sometimes daydreaming about getting away (to “Tahiti” — one of the show’s funnier numbers — and she happens to have a grass skirt on her New York apartment to pin Stan while she sings and dances); and Shoshana Bean as angry and worried Susan, unemployed and in therapy at age 40 to cope with her parents’ childhood neglect (and brings her powerful voice to the song “Maybe It Starts with Me”).
Jordan Gelber, Brian Gonzales and Mylinda Hull appear in multiple roles, including the trio from Buddy’s TV show, who wear over-the-top vintage-style costumes (by Paul Tazewell and Sky Switser) consisting of a hot dog, a pack of cigarettes, and a box of popcorn for the promotional jingle “What’s Playin’ at the Movies?” And Chasten Harmon is charming as Buddy’s young new agent, oblivious to the iconic comics of his (and now 74-year-old Crystal) days to which he pays homage (with their headshots projected onto the background screens, in one video and one projection) . design by Jeff Sugg), but after some research becomes a big proponent of Buddy and his old-school style.
The nostalgia for the humor of a bygone era that pervades Mr Saturday night appeals to an older audience who grew up with it (like the performance I attended), while younger generations tend not to get it – which equates to the mostly mean, unsympathetic, and not-so-‘young’ Buddy would undoubtedly be met with a loud ‘Oy vey ‘ reply (along with a barrage of insults, profanity and fuck yourself one-liners). Fun.
Running time: Approximately two hours and 35 minutes, including an intermission.
Mr Saturday night Plays at the Nederlander Theater, 208 West 41 until Sunday 4 September 2022St Street, New York. For tickets (prices range from $69 to $179), call or walk-in the box office at (212) 921-8000 on-line. Everyone must wear a mask indoors at all times.