Billy Crystal relives stage hit '700 Sundays' for HBO
In several ways, 700 Sundays weren't enough for Billy Crystal.
They weren't enough time to spend with his late concert promoter father, Jack. And the original run of the Tony Award-winning stage show about their relationship — titled “700 Sundays” — wasn't enough, so Crystal brought it back to Broadway for a recent nine-week revival. Having it be only a theatrical event wasn't enough, so Crystal has turned it into an HBO special: “Billy Crystal 700 Sundays” premieres April 19, on the cable channel.
Assembled from two January performances the actor-comedian gave at New York's Imperial Theatre, the two-hour, one-man show also factors in Crystal's passions for jazz music and the New York Yankees. A winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and six Emmys, the “When Harry Met Sally... ” star also took “700 Sundays” across America and to Australia in the mid-2000s.
Planning a return to series television next year opposite Josh Gad (“Frozen”) in FX's “The Comedians,” Crystal spoke about creating a permanent record of “700 Sundays.”
Question:What made now the time to bring the show to television?
Answer: It's been 10 years of doing it and 66 years of writing it. This last run was so fantastic — as was the first one — it got to the point where I was thinking to myself, “OK. How much longer do I do this?”
I still love it every time I perform the show, but it's 1,500 to 2,000 people a night. And those are big theaters. I thought I was ready to let go of it and let more people see it, and when HBO came to me during this last run, I said, “OK. Let's do it.”
Q:You're all over the stage during the course of the show, and certain camera angles clearly are designed for home viewing. How different was it for you to contour this for television?
A: I think it pretty much spelled itself. We had the crew come in to watch the show, and Des and I knew where we wanted cameras to be at certain points, plus we'd do pickup shots after the audience left.
Q: Does performing “700 Sundays” for TV strike you as a merging of everything you've done professionally?
A: I think so. I don't want to sound self-serving, but it's sort of an expression of all the different kinds of things I can do. I get to go from showing home movies to impersonating people like my aunt Sheila to doing mime. It's a great range I get to play in playing myself, and it's an extraordinary experience to get to do that.
I love that the laughs are as big as they are, but for me, as a performer, the best moments are when 1,500 people don't say a word or don't breathe for six or seven minutes as the show gets more serious ... as I re-create the night my dad died. I can't even tell you how powerful and wonderful a moment that is for an actor, to feel you have everybody leaning forward on your every word. That's a very rare thing, too.
Jay Bobbin writes for Zap2it.com.