Reporting Sara Pelissero
At the end of his one-man show, Billy Crystal answered the question many may have been wondering — after being on Broadway, why bring the show only to Minneapolis?
His answer was simple.
He had a hunch that Minnesota understands family — the highs and the lows, the characters and the black sheep, the dysfunction and the love above all else.
After Wednesday night’s performance of 700 Sundays at the State Theatre, his intuition seems to have turned into confirmation. Throughout his story, the audience hung on every word — laughing and elbowing their theater companions in agreement as he described his crazy relatives, wiping away tears during his times of loss and applauding his moments of triumph.
It’s not our story but it’s so relatable, you can find parts of your own family in Crystal’s.
“We all have the same five relatives — they jump from album to album,” he says.
There comes a moment in the show, or several really, where you suddenly forget the man standing in front of you is a multi-award winning actor and hugely famous celebrity. Instead, he’s just an incredible storyteller, one with loads of heart, a genuine soul, plenty of charm and a sense of humor that occasionally leaves you gasping for air.
Crystal leads us on a journey — a fascinating one, at that — of the story that made him who he is today. And no, not that talented, highly popular actor we’ve all grown to love but the man behind it.
He grew up in Long Beach, the youngest of three, in a modest house that would become an institution in his life. His mother was a homemaker, while his father owned and operated a tiny music store, which would later gain the attention of the some of the biggest jazz artists in the history of the genre.
Through his stories, he takes on the personalities and the voices of the characters in it, while transporting the audience to his kitchen table, the family’s couch by the bay window or his tiny bedroom with the paper-thin walls, just by the details alone.
Though Crystal plays more than 20 different characters through the course of his show, he gives justice to every one, helping the audience get a real sense of the person and their meaning in his life in order to show their true significance in the story.
The setting itself, a shell of the modest Long Beach house where it all started, is a permanent fixture, unchanging except for the home’s three front windows that transform into family photos and fantastic home movies.
The show’s title, 700 Sundays is a homage to the the actor’s late father, who died when Crystal was only 15. Sundays were family night — a night that young Billy looked forward to more than any other. With some simple math and life’s harsh dealings, Crystal calculated that he only had about 700 Sundays with his old man.
He reserves most of the first act for comedy — the hilarious stories of growing up in a Jewish family trying to make ends meet and the many characters they encountered along the way. And proves that even at age 65, fart jokes and penis jokes never grow old. If you’ve forgotten what knee-slapping laughter looks like, you’ll rediscover it in Act 1.
His final act visits a more somber tone, as he relives his father’s death, and 40-some years later, his mother’s, plus the boulder of grief that comes along with both. He holds true to the advice he’s given, to not be afraid to laugh in times of pain, and gives the audience moments where they’re laughing through tears.
Above all, he gives himself, fully, to the stories, the portrayals of his family and the message of the love that binds. At the end of his performance, he encourages the audience to make a call that night, just to tell someone you love how much they mean.
He bows one last time — gives his classic arms-spread pose on one bended knee — and leaves the stage.
And then, a funny thing happens. The family members, significant others and friends who came to a night of theater together embrace and exchange messages of affection as the make their way to the exit.
You certainly read us correctly, Mr. Crystal. If anyone understands your poignant story of family, it’s Minnesota.
700 Sundays runs through Oct. 26 at the State Theatre. For more information or tickets to 700 Sunday, click here.