‘Mr. Saturday Night’ stage adaptation spotlights Billy Crystal’s ‘charm’ in a ‘diverting’ musical

Time has finally caught up with Billy Crystal, at least in terms of his age and the age of his character in “Mr. Saturday Night.” The 1992 film found the young Crystal playing decades older as Buddy Young, Jr., a stand-up and television comedian in his 70s looking to resuscitate his career and rescue the relationships he had scorched on his path to success. For the musical stage adaptation, which opened at the Nederlander Theatre on April 27, Crystal gets to act his age for the majority of the proceedings, occasionally playing younger for the flashback scenes.

Featuring a book by the original screenwriters and a score by Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green, “Mr. Saturday Night” stars Crystal, David Paymer – who reprises his role from the movie – Randy Graff, Shoshana Bean, Chasten Harmon, and others. Tony Award-winner John Rando (“Urinetown”) directs.

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Billy Crystal’s return to the Broadway stage earned mixed and positive noticed from critics. In a strong write-up, Frank Rizzo (Variety) calls the musical “certainly the funniest show on Broadway in years, if not the most likable.” He describes the music and lyric as “one of the most appealing and disarming scores in some time,” as well as “bright, breezy and smart,” comparing it to the work of Cy Coleman. On the concept and execution of the book, Rizzo says it serves as a “great comic vehicle with a solid-though-unsurprising story.” He applauds the cast, including Crystal for “turning on the impish charm and non-stop zingers,” Bean for her “tough and tender” performance and singing, plus Paymer who “brings heart and humor to his role and even some rage.”

A little less positive, Laura Collins-Hughes (New York Times) says the show is “a bit of a mess” and an “ungainly beast,” but nevertheless thinks the musical is a “diverting evening” that will “almost surely make you laugh.” The stars of the show for Collins-Hughes are Crystal, who is “utterly in his element performing live” and “a pleasure to watch,” plus the “immensely likable” Paymer, and Bean, who delivers a “beautifully calibrated performance.”

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Helen Shaw (Vulture) feels similarly, critiquing the musical because “it’s aesthetics are so middle-of-the-road, they’re roadkill,” while its book and score “feel flabby and thin.” Of the score specifically, she says, “The musical numbers all feel like delaying tactics – oddly placed, oddly paced.” Given these faults, Shaw wonders, though, “So why did I enjoy it so much?” The answer lies in part with Crystal, who she says “is the kind of entertainer whose blade never dulls,” calling him “a master.”

With these reviews, “Mr. Saturday Night” is in contention for a Best Musical nomination. Even the critics who found many flaws in the different components of the show still enjoyed the evening overall and that baseline could very well be enough for the show to be a consensus choice amongst the few dozen Tony Awards nominators. The musical currently ranks fourth in our combined odds, trailing “A Strange Loop,” “Six,” and “Girl from the North Country,” while “Flying Over Sunset” rounds out our expected nominees.

WATCH 2022 Tony Awards slugfest: 21 productions vie for places in Play races

As the biggest asset of the production, leading man Billy Crystal will likely earn his first Tony nomination. While the original production of his play ”700 Sundays” won the Tony for Best Special Theatrical Event back in 2005, Crystal didn’t earn a nomination or win an award because as he was not a producer. The admiration Crystal received from critics will no doubt come from the nominators, too, and Crystal is solid bet for the bid. Our users rank him third in Best Actor, behind Jaquel Spivey (“A Strange Loop”) and Hugh Jackman (“The Music Man”) and ahead of Rob McClure (“Mrs. Doubtfire”) and Myles Frost (“MJ The Musical”).

“Mr. Saturday Night” could easily perform well in the featured acting categories as well. David Paymer earned an Academy Award nomination for the film back in 1993, and he could land a corresponding Tony nomination for the same role for his well-received performance. Our users think he will sneak into the Featured Actor race, trailing Matt Doyle (“Company”), Jefferson Mays (“The Music Man”), John-Andrew Morrison (“A Strange Loop”), and Claybourne Elder (“Company”). In Featured Actress, showstopper Shoshana Bean is in a very close sixth place, right outside of our top five. Although Bean has never earned a Tony nomination before, she’s a staple of the New York stage, having starred in the original cast or as a replacement in “Hairspray,” “Wicked,” and “Waitress.” Originating the role of Susan, Bean could finally get the recognition that she’s long deserved.

SEE Pulitzer-winning musical ‘A Strange Loop’ bows on Broadway: An ‘amazing feat’ with a ‘remarkable’ Jaquel Spivey

The musical could pick up additional bids for Best Score and Best Book, too, as it ranks fourth in both of those races. Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green contributed music and lyrics, respectively, and both have histories with the Tonys. Brown has three wins from his four nominations, taking home trophies in score for “Parade” and in score and orchestrations for “The Bridges of Madison County,” while Green previously earned a nomination in score for “Hands on a Hardbody.” The musical also reunited the film’s three screenwriters – Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel – to write the libretto. Although some critics quibbled with the way the film translated to the stage, Crystal’s involvement as writer might be enough to sneak into this race, too.

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