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Billy Crystal Musical – Deadline

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You might feel like you’ve seen it before Mr Saturday night the musical even if you’ve never seen Mr Saturday night the film, and whether you find it comforting – Billy Crystal is certainly one of the most likable presences in all of show business – or disappointing could entirely depend on your taste for Borsht Belt’s well-delivered comedy.

It’s not damning with faint praise: Mr Saturday night, the Broadway musical opener tonight at the Nederlander Theater based on the 1992 comedy, is, at its best, a charming showcase for the undeniable talents of Crystal and the showbiz icons he adores. There’s screams galore here for Milton Berle, Harry Ritz, Jack Carter, Phil Silvers, Myron Cohen, Moms Mabley, Shecky Green and more, and a nice visual homage (Scott Pask designed the eye-catching sets) to comedy and The Pioneers of Television, from Betty White and Phyllis Diller to Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Mr Saturday nightlike its star, does not hesitate to pay homage to it.

Even the story itself – about a once-popular 1950s comedian whose career self-sabotage left him, in the 1990s, performing in the community halls of local nursing homes – taps into the tradition of television legends such as Jack Paar, Arthur Godfrey and Sid Caesar. It’s a familiar story, told with love (perhaps too much love).

‘M. Saturday night cast
Matthew Murphy

Filling the film’s script with a kind but mostly immemorial musical score – and performed, with one notable exception, accordingly – Sir Saturday night, directed with a steady hand by John Rando, tells the story of Buddy Young Jr., a comedian from Catskills who rose to national fame as the host of his own comedy show until he aired grievances on the network on live television. From there, it was a steady decline through B-movies, nightclubs, and the required weak attempt at a 1970s comedy album (Disco Jewish).

Sticking to the whimsical, if good-hearted, Buddy over the years has been his manager-brother Stan (David Paymer, reprising his film role), his devoted wife Elaine (Randy Graff) and, to a lesser extent , his daughter Susan (Shoshana Bean), who, at 40 and still finding her way, never quite got over her father’s early neglect.

Agent Annie Wells (Chasten Harmon) is new to Buddy World. Think – as Buddy himself does – George Burns in The boys of the sun.

Despite Bean’s best efforts — she’s the star singer of the show — the father-daughter story just can’t hold the weight given to it, mostly because Crystal’s boyfriend never seems so bad. We see him despising his daughter during a stage encounter long ago, but the number of times middle-aged Susan storms out of the family home seems to suggest a past life with Joan Crawford (or at least Jerry Lewis). Crystal just doesn’t have it in him, even though Mr Saturday night cry for some king of comedy vitriol.

Better is the Crystal and Paymer display of sibling friction, with the irresistible sad Paymer bag making the ever-disappointed sibling also convincingly and attractively. The chemistry between the brothers — or, more accurately, between real-life pals and long-ago co-stars Crystal and Paymer — is by far the most enjoyable thing about a generally enjoyable production.

Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green’s enjoyable score keeps things light, all the more adding to the dramatic burden of a book (by Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) that can’t quite carry it. Buddy’s career comeback isn’t assured – and never quite believable no matter what – but the family reconciliations are as predictable and welcome as a joke that always gets a laugh.