Mr Saturday Night (Original Broadway Cast Recording) | Review
Monday, February 27, 2023
Billy Crystal can actually sing, even if his is not a voice you’d necessarily want to hear in concert
Mr Saturday Night is a throwback to the star vehicles of yesteryear when A-list composers crafted shows around the unique talents of popular TV or movie stars not exactly known for their Musical Theatre chops (think Lucille Ball in Wildcat or Lauren Bacall in Applause). By those rather low-bar standards, the Broadway cast recording of Mr Saturday Night is something of a success. Jason Robert Brown’s music is jaunty and appealing, Amanda Green’s incisive lyrics sit perfectly atop his syncopations, and Billy Crystal can actually sing, even if his is not a voice you’d necessarily want to hear in concert.
As in the 1992 film on which it’s based, Crystal plays Buddy Young Jr, a Borscht Belt comedian who became a household name via his 1950s TV variety show before a penchant for self-sabotage started his slow slog to the lower depths of showbiz. Crystal deftly navigates Brown’s irregular rhythms, giving his vocals an easy, conversational quality that seems just right for the character of Buddy, and he is able to open up on the old-school 11 o’clock number, ‘Any Man But Me’.
While the music is unfailingly pleasant, most of the 17 songs are mid-tempo numbers lacking distinctive choruses
Musical Theatre pros Randy Graff and Shoshana Bean give winsome performances as Buddy’s long-suffering wife and daughter. Each brings an extra dash of vocal panache to the score, even if one wishes the composer had given them the opportunity to really let loose. The strongest tracks are a charmer for Crystal and Graff called ‘Wonderful Pain In The Ass’ and Bean’s offbeat ‘I Want’ song, ‘Maybe It Starts With Me’.
While the music is unfailingly pleasant, most of the 17 songs are mid-tempo numbers lacking distinctive choruses. The most significant drawback is that the composer hasn’t fully cracked the nut of how to musicalise Buddy’s comedy routines which form the backbone of the show on stage. Thus, the Buddy we get on the recording is mostly the dyspeptic misanthrope rather than the irrepressible curmudgeon.
The ultimate effect is one of a missed opportunity. I can imagine someone happening upon this recording 20 years from now going, ‘Wait! Billy Crystal did a Broadway musical?!’, playing it and thinking, ‘Hmm, not bad’. But maybe not quite good enough to give it another listen.
Jason Robert Brown music
Amanda Green lyrics
Cast Billy Crystal, Randy Graff, David Paymer, Shoshana Bean, Chasten Harmon
Band Nick Grinder, Jesse-Ray Leich, Gary Sieger, Liesl Whitaker, Sue Williams / David O