Billy Crystal's '700 Sundays' review: Broadway comfort food
According to Billy Crystal, there were several differences between blacks and Jews during the 1960s. Blacks said, "Gimme five." Jews tended to say, "You owe me five!"
Ba-DOMP! Crystal is here all week, folks, and through Jan. 5 at Manhattan's Imperial Theatre with "700 Sundays," a reprise of his Tony-winning one-man show from 2004. It isn't a Hollywood tell-all, though Crystal -- a "Saturday Night Live" alum, the star of hit comedies like "When Harry Met Sally . . ." and a nine-time Oscar host -- must have troves of material. Instead, "700 Sundays" is a fond, funny and often moving tribute to the family and friends who shaped Crystal's pre-fame boyhood in Long Beach.
Named for the too-few number of days that Crystal had with his late father, "700 Sundays" is an irresistible blend of Borscht Belt shtick and heartwarming schmaltz. Crystal, still a savvy crowd-pleaser at 65, also salts this comfort food with just the right amount of coarse humor. The jokes sometimes sound pre-modern -- retail-obsessed Jews, Italian meatheads, hulking black high-schoolers -- but never mean-spirited. Only an entertainer as big-hearted as Crystal could make such stereotypes sound so affectionate.
That's partly because he's showing us a younger America though the eyes of a child. Standing before a detailed facade of his brick home at 549 E. Park Ave. (it even has a rooftop aerial), Crystal describes an era of tail-finned Plymouths, backyard barbecues and, in his case, grandparents kvetching in Yiddish ("a combination of German and phlegm"). He also takes pride in his father's involvement in the jazz label Commodore Records. Crystal isn't just name-dropping when he recalls sitting on Billie Holliday's lap during a matinee of "Shane" (coincidentally starring his future "City Slickers" pal Jack Palance). The moment meant something to a young Crystal, and as an adult he's clearly grateful for it.
That sense of gratitude, for every wacky uncle and summer baseball game, fairly pours off the stage, and it's what keeps this well-practiced show (Crystal toured with it in 2009) from feeling too slick. "700 Sundays" is proof that Crystal can still make us laugh, and he still knows how to hit us -- right here.
WHAT "700 Sundays"
WHERE Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St., Manhattan.
INFO $68-$162. 212-239-6200; bit.ly/11XDGsT
BOTTOM LINE Billy Crystal's one-man ode to his Long Island boyhood is Broadway comfort food, an irresistible combination of shtick and schmaltz. In other words, pure pleasure.