By Victoria L. Dammer
There’s nothing like a musical comedy filled with lines that make the audience roar, but when the show is based on a book and movie written by Billy Crystal, you will laugh until you cry.
Mr. Saturday Night is the story of Buddy Young, Jr. (Billy Crystal), an aging comedian whose career has long waned. He’s forced to play the retirement homes and is lucky to get a laugh when the audience is breathing. During an Emmy award show broadcast on television, it’s announced that Buddy Young Jr. has passed away, giving rise to his second career chance. Buddy’s wife, Elaine (Randy Graff), is barraged by visitors to their apartment, bearing gifts and condolences for the very much alive comic. His former manager and brother Stan Yankleman (David Paymer) flies from Florida to support Young’s grieving wife, passing out when his brother walks in the room. The scene brought a round of hooting. When NBC Today Show host Gene Shalit features Buddy on their morning program the following day, it begins a comical new journey for him.
Elaine has supported her husband throughout his career without question. Yet, his daughter Susan(Shoshana Bean) has relationship issues with her father that started when she was featured in Buddy’s comedy routines as a child. Bean’s voice was powerful in the song “There’s a Chance,” describing the struggle between parent and child that many can relate to.
Stan and Buddy can’t believe their luck and the chance to revive their working relationship, and the two perform a dance routine and sing “I Still Got It,” delighting the audience. But Stan reminisces about the times back at the beginning of their career, when both worked as servers in Farber’s Hotel in the Catskills as young adults. A simple twist of fate changed both of their lives. When Buddy replaced Milton Berle in the Saturday night comedy show, he caught the eye of Elaine instead of Stan, who had waited on her table. The jealousy among the brothers lasted almost an entire lifetime.
Luck also brings a new agent into Buddy’s life after the Shalit interview when Annie Wells(Chasten Harmon)believes in him, despite his cantankerous attitude and raunchy jokes. She makes efforts to help Buddy’s career, but he’s more inclined to sabotage the future with his bitterness and dirty mouth.
Fate was also sitting in Farber’s Hotel audience the night Buddy first went on stage in the 50s. Farber’s 10-year-old grandson was the butt of a few jokes during Buddy’s act. He would play an important part in Buddy’s second career when he became a famous movie director and asked Buddy to participate in one of his productions. Buddy exhibits his grumpy personality when told Walter Matthau is replacing him, and he storms out of the audition, hurting his brother once again. Stan is devastated by Buddy’s reaction not to read for another part, and the hurt can be felt in the song, “Broken.” It starts with the words, “So you need me back, so I gave up my own life, and tough…”
But all stories of second chances have happy endings. Buddy goes back to the community center comedy acts, and Stan and Buddy eventually make up. Walter Matthau drops out of the movie, and Buddy gets the part. Susan realizes she can reconcile her feelings with her dad in the powerful song “Maybe It Starts With Me.” And Elaine, who’s always supported the family, sticks around to see Buddy’s latest success.
The sold-out theater erupted in a standing ovation for one of the funniest and uplifting musical comedies on Broadway. Mr. Saturday Night is a must-see.
Mr. Saturday Night, book by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel. Music by Jason Robert Brown. Lyrics by Amanda Green. Based on the Castle Rock Entertainment motion picture “Mr. Saturday Night, by special arrangement with Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures. Presented by the Nederlander Theatre. Starring Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Randy Graff, Shoshana Bean, and Chasten Harmon. Scenic design by Scott Pask; costume design by Paul Tazewell & Sky Switser; lighting design by Kenneth Posner; sound design by Kai Harada; video and projection design by Jeff Sugg; production management by Juniper Street Productions, Inc., casting by Tara Rubin Castings; company manager Michael Altbaum; music director David O; press representative Polk & Co.; directed by John Rando.
Running time is approximately 150 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.