A Second Helping of 700 Sundays: Billy Crystal Brings His Childhood Back to Broadway

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17 Nov 2013

Billy Crystal
Photo by Carol Rosegg

"So we opened at the La Jolla Playhouse with key-word outlines in the wings that the audience couldn't see so I could remember where I was going. I think ours is the only show that ever opened on Broadway with no script, just a four-page outline."

Crystal's Broadway baptism has left a lovely afterglow for him. "It's the greatest thrill to have a show that's well received in New York," he admitted. "The people are amazing. The audiences are fantastic. You can feel the people scurrying in the theatre district, racing to get to their designated shows. Then, basically, the doors shut, and the streets are quiet for two hours. Then, they open, and everybody spills out — hopefully, in a good mood. I loved being part of that."

There was a steady procession of celebrities beating a trail backstage to congratulate Crystal, and they would party onstage in front of the set — David F. Weiner's exact replica of 549 East Park Avenue, his boyhood home in Long Island, N.Y.

"Every night I would invite them up on stage after the show and take a picture in the doorway of the house. All of them looked like they were coming over to visit. The quilt of people was so amazing — from Joe Torre to David Bowie, from Mel Brooks to Henry Kissinger, from David Letterman to Dustin Hoffman. The people who took the time to come backstage, who I had not met before and who you wouldn't think would be moved by the story, for whatever reason — basically, it's the story of a family, and a boy and his dad — coach Bobby Knight, Pat Riley..." His favorite? "Kurt Vonnegut, because his take on the show was so interesting."

To be sure, Crystal delivers the comedy goods — most notably, miming a backyard barbecue that turns into family free-for-all. "Pantomime is an art that I sort of understood from watching Sid Caesar and Red Skelton. Without saying a word, you see this family fight break out. I always look forward to doing it."

But it's the poignancy implied in the title that frames and informs the piece. "Recapturing the emotions I felt over my losses was the hardest thing to do. Going back into that now a few years later is still difficult. But, as an actor and as a son, it's a delight to play because the drama of it is very real and it never fails to move me."

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Billy Crystal
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN



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