Billy Crystal has come to Broadway with 700 Sundays, his one-man show about family and friends that have affected his life. The piece, which is directed by Des McAnuff and features additional material by Alan Zweibel, was workshopped at the La Jolla Playhouse, opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on December 5. What happened when New York critics met Billy?
Here is a sampling of what they had to say:
William Stevenson in his Broadway.com Review: "I found Crystal to be just as entertaining as he has been as an eight-time host of the Academy Awards--in the first act. In the second act, unfortunately, he lays on the pathos a little too thick… Crystal, known for his rapid-fire joke telling, turns out to be a capable silent comedian. In fact, the entire first act is quite successful, as Crystal with help, no doubt, from McAnuff and Zweibel combines comedy and sentimental reminiscence. It's sweet but not saccharine. The second act is another story. It's dominated by his discussion of his parents' deaths… There are amusing bits in the second act, but there's also a surfeit of unfunny, crude humor… Still, his legions of fans will go home happy."
Ben Brantley of The New York Times: "If you already have tickets to Mr. Crystal's autobiographical play--and if you don't, good luck, because they are already as scarce as this season's must-have Prada - you needn't bother putting on the psychological armor you would wear for insult artists like Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers or Dame Edna Everage. No, the ideal attire for 700 Sundays would be something closer to an old bathrobe, with plenty of Kleenex in its pockets. For this show, directed by Des McAnuff, has been carefully set up to suggest a night of home movies, screened by a buddy from your high school days who is equal parts attention-grabbing show-off and soft-hearted sweetie pie… What Mr. Crystal summons here is indeed the home movie of pretty much everybody who grew up in the American suburbs in the Eisenhower era. Its very familiarity suggests why 700 Sundays needs no critic's benediction to be a sold-out hit."
Clive Barnes of The New York Post: "It's Crystal clear--Broadway belongs to Billy. He owns it for as long as he wants it. Onstage or off, memoirs are usually not much fun. The glorious exception is 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal's ruminating reminiscences of growing up in and around New York, which last night stealthily slid into our hearts and the Broadhurst Theatre. This is not a one-man show--it's a one-man phenomenon. Crystal juggles both time and emotion. He has you recall memories you hardly knew you had, makes you roar at jokes you thought you'd forgotten, and crystallizes tears into hard-core nostalgia."
Howard Kissel of The New York Daily News: "The first act of his one-person show is stand-up comedy. The second act is extremely moving theater… Everything about the show, directed by Des McAnuff, works to build its impact, from the witty set, an evocation of Crystal's Long Island home, to the music, jazz to Gershwin to Rachmaninoff. 700 Sundays is a brave portrait of an eccentric, endearing family. It is hilarious and unexpectedly touching."
David Rooney of Variety: "While Billy Crystal makes much of the fact that his family car as a kid was a clunky, gray-on-gray Plymouth Belvedere, the comedian's 700 Sundays is as sleekly tooled and polished as a brand-new red Corvette. But there's a nagging conflict inherent in a solo show that's both a well-oiled machine and a love letter to the star's late parents: The slickness and overscripted lack of spontaneity tarnish the sincerity, no matter how heartfelt the emotion behind it. That said, Crystal is a consummate professional who knows exactly what his middle-age, middle-class, middlebrow New York audience wants. The huge advance ticket sales indicate they're lapping it up."
Linda Winer of Newsday: "700 Sundays is a real play--make that a sweetheart of a real play--about growing up with love, humor and loss in the Crystal bungalow in Long Beach, Long Island… Crystal, dressed simply in a brown sweater and dark pants, holds the stage with all the savvy and accumulated affection of a multifaceted, good- natured career. Unlike other solos in the Vegas-ization of Broadway, this one weaves the comic routines almost incidentally into the plot… Stars in the sky we get all the time on Broadway. Stars who write plays are the real special effects."