Review Roundup: MR. SATURDAY NIGHT Opens on Broadway Starring Billy Crystal

This is Billy Crystal’s return to Broadway following the hugely successful, critically acclaimed and Tony Award winning production of 700 Sundays.

By: Apr. 27, 2022
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The new comedy musical, Mr. Saturday Night officially opens on Broadway tonight! Read the reviews!

MR. SATURDAY NIGHT is the story of Buddy Young Jr., an outrageous and outspoken comedian who found fame, if not fortune, in the early days of television. Now, some 40 years after his TV career flamed out, Buddy seeks one more shot at the spotlight, and while he's at it, one last shot at fixing the family he fractured along the way.

Billy Crystal returns to the role of Buddy Young Jr. that he portrayed in the original 1992 Columbia Pictures film of the same name, which also marked his directorial debut. Mr. Saturday Night also features Tony Award winner Randy Graff (City of Angels, Les Misérables) as Elaine Young; David Paymer (City Slickers, Quiz Show, State & Main), who is recreating his Oscar-nominated performance as Buddy's brother Stan Yankleman; Shoshana Bean (Wicked, Waitress) as Susan Young; and Chasten Harmon (The Good Fight, Elementary, Broadway's Hair) as agent Annie Wells. The Broadway company will also include Jordan Gelber (Sunday in the Park with George), Brian Gonzales (Aladdin), and Mylinda Hull (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Sweet Charity), Stephen DeRosa (Gary: A Sequel) Henry Gainza (On Your Feet), Tari Kelly (Groundhog Day) and Tatiana Wechsler (Broadway debut).

The book for the stage musical is written by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. The score for Mr. Saturday Night features music by three-time Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County) and lyrics by Tony Award nominee Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody). Tony Award winner John Rando (Urinetown, On The Town) will direct. The production will feature choreography by Ellenore Scott (upcoming revival of Funny Girl).

The production features scenic design by Scott Pask, costume design by Paul Tazewell and Sky Switser, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, video and projection design by Jeff Sugg, sound design by Kai Harada, and hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe. The production stage manager is Tripp Phillips. Music Direction is by David O. Orchestrations and arrangements are by Jason Robert Brown.

Laura Collins-Hughes, The New York Times: Three decades later, Crystal too is in his 70s, and in the new musical comedy "Mr. Saturday Night," which opened on Wednesday night, he slips much more naturally into Buddy's skin. As a piece of theater, the show is a bit of a mess; the jokes, even some of the hoary ones, work better than the storytelling, and the acting styles are all over the place. Still, it makes for a diverting evening - because it will almost surely make you laugh, and because of how acutely tuned into the audience Crystal is.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Thirty years ago, Crystal wore aging makeup to play this role on film. He doesn't need it anymore, but he never really did: He has Buddy in his bones. Crystal has been playing this alter kocker alter ego since at least Saturday Night Live in 1985, and Buddy's type of Catskills-and-Friars-Club cut-up is embedded in his comic style: He has deep affection and respect for the generation of comedians that Buddy represents, and he keeps their spirit alive in his timing, his rhythms, his soulful aggression. ("Happy anniversary. Forty-five years!" Buddy tells his wife. "Eleven of the best years of my life.") In Mr. Saturday Night he honors their history with a sweet, slight, nostalgic musical comedy.

Chris Jones, The New York Daily News:The songs are witty and droll, but they're mostly what they used to call specialty numbers and you never entirely feel like they're integrated into the emotional logic of the whole. As directed by John Rando, "Mr. Saturday Night" feels more like a play with music: its focus is on the price paid to be funny, a fee not just exacted from the comedian, but also a family. In an ideal world, all of the comedic energy in those routines would flow directly into the songs, making them an organic part of the comedy-pain axis on which this show turns as it probes Buddy's shifting but perpetually destructive psyche. But that never entirely happens, partly because the juiciest sections of the show are given over to comedy routines and scenes.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Better is the sibling friction Crystal and Paymer display, with the irresistibly sad-sack Paymer doing the forever-disappointed also-ran brother convincingly and appealingly. The chemistry between the brothers - or, more accurately, between real-life pals and long-ago co-stars Crystal and Paymer - is easily the most enjoyable thing in a generally enjoyable production. The pleasant score by Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green keeps things light, putting all that much heavier a dramatic burden on a book (by Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) that can't quite carry it. Buddy's career comeback isn't assured - and never entirely credible, come what may - but the familial reconciliations are as predictable and welcome as a joke that always makes you laugh.

Frank Rizzo, Variety: The end result is certainly the funniest show on Broadway in years, if not the most likable. Look for a healthy run, at least with headliner Crystal, who last packed houses with his autobiographical show "700 Sundays." And with composer Jason Robert Brown and lyricist Amanda Green supplying one of the most appealing and disarming scores in some time, what's not to like?

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Brown has the excuse that he's been given the task of writing music for people who can't sing, Bean being the one exception. Green, on the other hand, never comes close to writing lyrics that reflect Young's edgy humor even when that character is singing. At its heart, the musical "Mr. Saturday Night" is as sentimental as it is dishonest. Under the direction of John Rando, the show entertains only when the title character is being nasty. Reform him, as all his dull relatives insist upon, and he ceases to hold any interest.

Nicole Serratore, The Stage: The cast does its damndest. Paymer and Crystal exude palpable brotherly warmth. Graff is the show's most valuable player, her comedic delivery almost upstaging Crystal. Bean sings the bejeezus out of her ballads. The cast members who cover multiple roles - Jordan Gelber, Brian Gonzales and Mylinda Hull - craft incredibly quick, precise sketches of their characters, ranging from Gelber's hulking Rod Steiger impression and slow-shuffling elderly actor to Gonzales' 10-year-old child. Harmon, meanwhile, is a bubbly pleasure, although underused. Scott Pask's scenic design mixes physical sets with helpful projections (the Borscht Belt map illustrations are colourful and zany). Paul Tazewell and Sky Switser's costume designs are accurate and fun, with over-the-top 1950s TV show costumes including a dancing hotdog and pack of cigarettes, and spot-on 1990s-era baby-doll dresses for Susan.

Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: There's one thing to kvetch about with "Mr. Saturday Night": it would be better as a straight play than a song-and-dance show. Jason Robert Brown has composed a bland point-A-to-point-B score that's not as hilarious or textured as the text. Similar to "Tootsie" before it, the star here is the scenes, not the tunes.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: There's something engaging about each of these three basic layers of "Mr. Saturday Night," although Crystal's comedy far more so than the story or the music. But they exist uneasily together, and wind up undermining one another, not least because the running time of about 170 minutes (including intermission) - way longer than the movie - is too long for a light, sentimental comedy that gets its juice from quick-hit Borscht Belt humor.

Andrea Towers, Entertainment Weekly: Directed by John Rando (Urinetown, On the Town) and based on the book written by Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel, Mr. Saturday Night bows this week at the Nederlander Theatre. It features a score by Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years), lyrics by Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody), and choreography by Ellenore Scott (Head Over Heels), who all do their best to bring to life a show that at times feels bogged down with mediocre songs and lackluster staging.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: To underline Crystal's powers the colorful Brown and Green have written "Any Man But Me." Though more than vocally acceptable throughout. the show's star (no understudy listed) brings this eleven o'clock number off with expanding fortitude. He delivers it as if this final quarter of the musical is the one he's truly pleased to be headlining. Is it going too far to suggest Crystal might someday make a terrific Uncle Vanya? It would be unfair to suggest that Mr. Saturday Night is any less than amiable start to finish, not only for a focal figure who has the audience eating out of his hand but for the other seven-and for Ellenore Scott's jaunty choreography. Paymer has Stan well in hand. Graff, always marvelous, is present much of the time as a likable foil but shows her strength in the "Until Now" duet with Crystal and in the mock-sultry "Tahiti." Though Bean is given ditties as if she's there and so ought to have a song or two, she makes them count. Harmon shows off in the Buddy Young Jr.-taunting "What If I Said?"

Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: But, and it's a very big but, none of this will matter to Crystal fans, as everyone should be. The 74-year-old performer displays the vitality of someone half his age, his energy fueled by the waves of audience laughter cascading over the footlights. It's a treat to see him up close and personal as he works his tuchus off (the Yiddishisms prove infectious) to entertain us. Mr. Saturday Night would prove an absolute triumph for long as you eliminated the plot, the supporting characters, and the musical numbers.

Kobi Kassal, Theatrely: He reunites with original screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel for the book, supplemented with music by Jason Robert Brown and lyrics by Amanda Green. The combinations are as safe and sweet as expected, yet never cloying nor sentimental. That it avoids such traps is a major win, considering the methodical plot, which includes a long-suffering wife (played with great charisma by the eternally young Randy Graff) and their somewhat estranged daughter (Shoshana Bean, terrific as always), who has recently won her 90-day chip following a long battle with addiction and now struggles to re-enter her workaholic father's life.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: As it turned out, Mr. Saturday Night was perfect to watch on a Sunday afternoon. It's billed as a musical comedy, but really it feels like an amiable comedy with some songs scattered on it, like icing sugar on a light sponge. Its star Billy Crystal wrote the book with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; the music is by Jason Robert Brown, and lyrics by Amanda Green. The show is a ranging 2 hours and 40 minutes (opening Wednesday night at the Nederlander Theatre, booking to Sept. 4), but in the spirit of many good things on stage, it does not dawdle under John Rando's easy-as-it-goes direction, instead ambling pleasantly and un-challengingly along at its own pace.

Matt Windman, amNY: While Crystal and the cast are droll and endearing, "Mr. Saturday Night" (directed by John Rando with an especially small cast for an old-fashioned-style musical comedy) is pretty dull, slow, and schmaltzy. The gentle score, much of which was custom-built for a leading man with a limited vocal range, lacks the flavor and bite of Brown and Green's best work. A lively establishing song performed by Bean in the first act seems to have come out of an entirely different, more contemporary, more interesting show.

Peter Marks, Washington Post: It's an evening of ba-dum-bum punchlines in this vein at the Nederlander Theatre, where "Mr. Saturday Night" marked its official opening Wednesday night. Low-key ballads in classic Broadway cadences by Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green are interspersed throughout the proceedings, amiably directed by John Rando. But they are not such prominent features as to distract from the main focus, which is the funny business - sometimes tender, other times cruder and more caustic - derived from the notion that Crystal's semiretired Buddy Young Jr. is over the hill.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Theatre Guide: A show about a comedian getting a shot at a new medium - for Buddy, a movie; for Billy, a Broadway musical - has a tidy meta tinge. Billy/Buddy's brand of insult humor and verbal slaps make for a touchy subject in 2022. That's worth noting. Good comic timing, after all, is no joke.

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