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Review: 386 Sundays Later, 700 SUNDAYS Returns

Faster than a speeding Les Misérables revival, Billy Crystal's solo performance piece, 700 Sundays, returns to Broadway a mere 386 Sundays after its Tony-winning original production gave its regards.

Review: 386 Sundays Later, 700 SUNDAYS ReturnsThe town has changed a bit in that time. The prominent theatre critic whose admiring quote graces the entrance of the Imperial Theatre has been dead for five years. And the beloved Bronx personality whose "voice of God" gives the pre-show announcement about cell phones and candy wrappers is also a happy memory. Even Crystal's home town of Long Beach, New York, which figures so prominently in the narrative, is not quite the same after Hurricane Sandy.

But despite added jokes about Obamacare and Rand Paul, 700 Sundays is a memory piece that pretty much remains the warmhearted, moving and extremely funny night out that it was back in 2004.

The title refers to the amount of time Crystal had with his father, who passed on when the young, already aspiring comedian was only 15, and the reason for the revival is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death. But the mood here is far from funereal.

Like a Borscht Belt variation of Thornton Wilder's stage manager, Crystal tells his story in front of set designer David F. Weiner's replica of the star's old Long Island home, which serves as a projection screen for the home movies and family photos that enhance every punch line.

"We all have the same five relatives," Crystal assures the audience. And surely, as the grown man mimics his younger self's observations of his crazy collection of aunts and uncles ("They spoke mostly Yiddish, which is a combination of German and phlegm.") his childhood memories serve as reminders of our own.

The first act is focused on his dad, Jack Crystal, who spent the other six days of the week living a secret life in a magical place called Manhattan, where he ran the family business, the Commodore Record Store. In the 1950's Commodore was the only record company that would record jazz without restricting the musicians' artistic freedom. Billie Holiday not only recorded "Strange Fruit" for Commodore, but she took Little Billy to his first movie. And it was at Sunday night jam sessions hosted by his father where the young man cut his performing teeth, specializing in one-legged tap dancing.

Review: 386 Sundays Later, 700 SUNDAYS ReturnsHe worshipped Mickey Mantle from the time his father took him to his first baseball game and wanted to grow up to be a Yankee, but after seeing a stand-up perform at a Catskills nightclub, Billy recognized that while he might never be good enough to play in the majors, comedy was something he could do.

After his father's death, the second act focuses on Crystal's mutually protective relationship with his mother and her determination to provide the family with a normal family life.

His impersonations of himself as a child performing for his family (complete with their reactions) are riotous, as is his recollection of being pitifully over-matched in a high school basketball game. But the comedic highlight of 700 Sundays, a masterful display of clowning, is a mime piece of a gruff uncle getting down to the serious business of cooking up a 4th of July barbecue.

Additional material is supplied by Alan Zweibel and Des McAnuff's direction keeps the evening moving swiftly and seamlessly, but with all due respect to their contributions you're not likely to leave the theatre thinking of anyone else but Billy Crystal. As a performer who has been welcomed into American homes for decades via television appearances, he's once again returning the favor by inviting you to his home. You may think you've seen all his movies, but you ain't seen nothing yet.

Photos of Billy Crystal by Carol Rosegg.

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