Iconic comedian Billy Crystal is wowing local critics in his pre-Broadway run of "700 Sundays," the revival of his Tony Award-winning one-man show that's playing the State Theatre in Minneapolis this week before the performer brings it back to the Great White Way for one final run in November.
The show -- in which Crystal recounts stories of several unique family members and friends growing up in New York -- mostly centers on his father, Jack, who died when Crystal was only 15. Sundays were the days growing up when Crystal could always count on father-son time, and he notes how he spent about 700 Sundays with his dad before his death from a heart attack in 1963 at age 54.
Graydon Royce of the Star Tribune lavished praise upon the production in his review of the Wednesday night show, saying, "Billy not only has this mountain of gold in his closet, he has crafted it into a two-hour ride that runs on the steam of his unsparing observations and affection for his family -- and his capacity for holding an audience."
Crystal reveals extraordinary details of his life in the show, including the presence of several jazz legends because Jack Crystal and his brother, Mort, owned a record store in Manhattan. Several of the jazz greats were instrumental in shaping Crystal in his youth, including Billie Holiday, who took Crystal to see his first movie when he was 5 years old. Sitting on Holiday's lap, Crystal first saw "Shane," a film that starred his future "City Slickers" co-star Jack Palance.
"That he employs those talents in the service of his rather astonishing autobiographical material makes this show so much more extraordinary," Royce writes.
Pioneer Press critic Dominic P. Papatola points out that Crystal doesn't do impressions of any of the film or TV characters that made him famous, and instead focuses on his family and the people around them.
Papatola says if "you're interested a warmly observed, exquisitely delivered chronicle of the events that shaped Crystal's life and aesthetic, this is an excellent and frequently hilarious primer that displays Crystal's virtuoso talents as mimic, comic and storyteller."
The show runs at the State Theatre through Saturday.
My take: As a film reviewer, I've been entertained by Billy Crystal for years -- but nothing he's done on screen comes close to the emotional power of his stage presentation, which is as deeply poignant as it is hilarious.
After seeing the show, you can't help but come out with an even greater appreciation of the Crystal's life and talents, but an appreciation of how fragile all our lives are. Go if you can -- it's an amazing opportunity that few people outside of New York will ever get to experience.