A funny thing happened in the “Mr. Saturday Night” rehearsal room a few weeks ago. Billy Crystal performed a scene from this new Broadway musical in which its title character, an aging, out-of-touch comedian named Buddy Young Jr., learned he had been mistakenly included in an Emmy Awards in-memoriam segment.
Invited to appear on the “Today” show to correct the mistake, Buddy sees an opportunity to reclaim the star he once commanded. With that motivation, Crystal turned to her co-star David Paymer, who plays Buddy’s endlessly loyal brother Stan, and he started singing a song about his deep desire to get a crowd’s attention. :
What I was then
I could have this again
I could be – I could still be
It’s a mostly comedic song, delivered in the warm, warbling voice that Crystal employed every year when he was a ubiquitous comedy star and a reliable and awesome host of the Oscars.
“Mr. Saturday Night,” which opens April 27 at the Nederlander Theater, is a throwback to the era of Crystal hegemony in the 1980s and early 90s, when he straddled the cultural landscape with his shows. specials and his blockbuster movies like ” Townspeople “ and “When Harry met Sally…”
The film version of “Mr. Saturday Night,” which Crystal starred in and directed in 1992, felt like an odd misstep at the time. A far cry from the passionate ticklers he was known for, Crystal – then 44, under layers of old age makeup – played Buddy as a selfish grump who has alienated his family and refuses to accept that his career is over.
Now 74, Crystal isn’t that guy – while he doesn’t relish the outsized dominance he once had, he doesn’t share Buddy’s desperation to get it back either.
Yet, as Crystal told me a few days before the rehearsal, there is a certain pleasure he finds in revisiting this singularly unpleasant character: “To play him 30 years later, they have to make me younger” , he joked.
But seriously, folks: Crystal explained that when he performs as Buddy in the musical, he’s not weighed down by elaborate prosthetics or an aura of sympathy, and that brings a new ease to his performance.
“When he’s cantankerous and angry with people, it’s in front of a live audience,” he enthused. “I feel them getting mad at him and I hear them say, ‘Ooh.’ »
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