Billy Crystal has a one person show, 700 Sundays, at the Imperial Theatre. I must admit that my knowledge of him was limited. I only knew him as Harry from When Harry Met Sally (1989) and as one of the best Oscar hosts I have ever seen. Other than that, the man was pretty much a mystery to me. From my seat, I could have skipped over and touched the stage if I wanted to, but I resisted the temptation. The set was a red brick house complete with a chimney, massive satellite, and a few porch chairs. Nothing fancy, very homey, in fact. I guess that’s what Billy Crystal wanted us to feel throughout the play: at home.
When Billy came running onto the stage to deafening applause and screaming, it was as if he were a rock star of some kind and we were at a reunion concert, rather than a play. I was kinda waiting for him to start singing.
While the show does have a story, it’s really all about Billy. He spoke casually, like he was sitting across from me on the couch, as he told anecdote after anecdote: some funny, some heartbreaking, and all true.
His father, Jack Crystal, was one of his first heroes at an age when “all kids did was collect heroes”. He valued the Sundays they spent together so much that he’d sit outside the door to his parents’ bedroom every Sunday morning at the crack of dawn, just waiting for his dad to wake up so they could start their fun. I can relate to that, that feeling in the pit of my stomach of such anticipation that I had trouble sleeping. I remember all the times my brother and I would wake up on holidays and birthdays and excitedly climb into our parents' bed at some ungodly hour.
Jack would pass away at the age of 54 of a heart attack, restricting Billy’s Sundays with him to roughly (according to Billy’s calculations) 700. Billy reinforced that even in times of disaster, it is okay to laugh. When the family was sitting Shiva for Jack Crystal, Billy came downstairs to witness something truly great: His uncle, making jokes, telling stories, and momentarily distracting everyone from their misery. I had to grin at this. That was Jack's older brother. He had just lost one of the closest people in his life and there he was cracking everybody up and reminding us that it is healthy to breathe and smile even when things look dim. Finding happiness should never make you feel guilty.
I do not think that I have ever had such a warm and inclusive theatre experience. I have been to quite a bit of immersive theatre, where, while I certainly interacted with the set and the actors, I definitely did not feel as welcome in the space. It was not the same as sitting there transfixed by Billy's charm and stories. Billy created his own space with the audience that transcended the theatre. There's something about him that reassures you and makes you feel like he's a member of your family reminiscing about his life for your benefit alone.
When it was all said and done, Billy having barely broken a sweat, he gave us what his mother would have called "a good ending" to a memorable performance by doing a perfect cartwheel across the stage, kneeling and opening his arms wide to us, all the while flashing his million dollar smile. Bravo! As I wove my way through the crowd, I heard one woman say to her friend "You know what? I laughed myself sick tonight!" and I thought to myself "Yeah, that pretty much sums it up".
Have you ever experienced a tough situation where laughing made it better?