Billy Crystal is no stranger to a curtain call, the seasoned stand-up having performed on stages across the country for decades now.
But taking the stage at New York City’s Nederlander Theatre last month for the opening of Mr. Saturday Night — the musical adaption of his 1992 film of the same name — held extra special meaning for Crystal. It was the first time his four grandchildren had seen him do the role on Broadway.
“I’m very proud of the fact that at the age of 74, I made my musical comedy debut in front of my grandchildren opening night,” the beloved comedian, who is up for a leading actor Tony Award for his role in the show, recalled on Monday’s episode of The View. “That was the greatest thrill of all.”
“It was truly moving,” Crystal continued. “[Before the show] I kept thinking about where I started and how these kids who have never seen me live before on stage… never saw me perform — especially this character, that embraces my age now, this is who I am — and I keep getting teary. I had to go, ‘Stop it, stop it, stop it.’ “
Crystal, who has been married to his wife Janice since 1970, has four grandchildren between his two adult daughters.
“The girls are 18 and 16, the boys are 12 and 9,” Crystal said on The View, before making a reference to the animated character he famously voices in Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University. “To have them there and seeing I’m not just Mike Wazowski, I’m this guy?… It was a big deal.”
Mr. Saturday Night tells the story of fictional Buddy Young Jr., a successful comedian in the early days of television who gets a second chance at fame 40 years after his career flamed out. The story finds Buddy finally addressing the family he fractured along the way on his road to success.
The musical features a score from three-time Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County) and lyrics by Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody). Crystal, who directed the 1992 film, penned the book alongside Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.
“These are characters… that I know very well,” Crystal explained on The View, of Buddy. “The Alan Kings and the Buddy Hacketts, it’s a very specific kind of guy and I love them I grew up watching them.”
He decided to adapt it into a musical thanks to a suggestion from Mel Brooks in 2005.
“The fact that the film at the time did not do well, it always stuck in my craw a little bit because I was really proud of the movie,” Crystal said. “It took us about 6 years to put it all together… The show is joyous, moving, and hilarious. The music is fantastic.”
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Stepping back into the role of Buddy was particularly powerful for Crystal.
“It is a thrill to play him live because … he’s hilarious, he’s moody, he says things that are inappropriate, and I get to do him live in front of the audience,” the star said.
”To be able to do something like this character who I first started in 1984, then did different in kind of forms, and then did the film in , now? All of these years later?” Crystal added. “To do it live, in front of people, is amazing. It’s truly amazing..”
The biggest difference? “When we did the film I needed 5 hours of makeup at least every day,” he remembered. “Now I just show up! That’s the great thing about it.”
Mr. Saturday Night is up for five awards at the 2022 Tony Awards, including the coveted best musical.
Aside from that and Crystal’s performance nomination, the show is also in the running for best original score, best book (another nod for Crystal) and best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical for Shoshana Bean, who plays Buddy’s estranged daughter.
Crystal has won a Tony before, for his 2005 special theatrical event, 700 Sundays.
Presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, the annual Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre (as the Tonys are officially known) recognize the highest honor in U.S. theater — the equivalent of television’s Emmys, music’s Grammys, or the film industry’s Oscars. It’s a necessary award in achieving EGOT, the grand slam of show business.
Oscar-winner and former Tony nominee Ariana DeBose will host the 2022 Tonys, which will air live coast-to-coast from the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 12 beginning at 8 p.m. ET. It will be broadcast live on both CBS and Paramount+.