PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: 700 Sundays — Life With, and Without, Father

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14 Nov 2013

Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN offers a behind-the-scenes look at opening night of the return engagement of Billy Crystal's one-man show 700 Sundays.

"Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind toward some resolution which it may never find."

Robert Anderson got there first in his 1968 play, I Never Sang for My Father, with these sentiments of a son grieving for his dad. Billy Crystal just did the math: 700 Sundays, which began a nine-week revival Nov. 13 at the Imperial, is a funny/sad look back at the number of Sabbaths he shared on this planet with his father.

First Sunday: March 14, 1948. "I Am Born," as David Copperfield's first chapter heading has it — and Crystal hilariously re-creates his emergence from the womb.

That was then, and this is 65 years (plus change) later. Last month he realized he had been officially fatherless for half a century, and the symmetry of that prompted him to wing his way back to Broadway with his 2004 Tony-winning one-man show.

Jack Crystal, his dad, suffered a fatal heart attack at the too-young age of 54, putting too much into his regular Tuesday night bowling and leaving behind 15-year-old Billy, a resourceful and unsinkable wife Helen and two sons away at college, Joel and Rip.

The Duke and The Count attended Jack's funeral (i.e., Ellington and Basie). He had been a jazz promoter/producer and co-founder of Commodore Records on East 42nd with his brother-in-law, songwriter Milt Gabler ("L-O-V-E," "Danka Schoen"). That kind of musical backdrop was a unique and enriching environment for an impressionable lad to grow up in. Lady Day, no less, served as his babysitter at times. "Miss Billie," in fact, took "Mr. Billy" to his first movie, "Shane" ("He ain't coming back.")

For someone collecting Social Security, the four-times-a-grandpa comes out of the chute like a fireball and doesn't let up, delivering "Billy Crystal: The Early Years" as rapid-fire standup, replete with a myriad of nuanced and/or Jewish mannerisms. The opening-night audience, a heavy mix of Jersey and Long Island, lapped it up.

Crystal comes fully equipped with sound effects, too — a faulty hearing aid, a 1948 family car coughing and sputtering into movement, a rabbi with a Sylvester the Cat speech-impediment and Edward G. Robinson in "The Ten Commandments" snarling "Where's your Messiah now?" He plays the audience like his dad's mandolin.


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