Mr. Saturday Night

Original Broadway Cast, 2022 (Craft Recordings) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The highlight of many a Golden Age musicals is the “11 o’clock number.” Mr. Saturday Night, a Golden Age pastiche, has at least four of them — without earning even one. This show was written as a vehicle for Billy Crystal, star of the movie that served as its source material. It tells the story of aging comedian Buddy Young, Jr., who is reduced to playing nursing homes until an “in memoriam” section of an awards show lists him as dead and inspires a career renaissance. This is a character we’re supposed to fall in love with, but lyricist Amanda Green (here writing in the style of her father Adolph) and composer Jason Robert Brown make it hard to do so. Right from his first song, “A Little Joy,” it’s clear that Buddy is a bitter, nasty man — beaten down by bad breaks, sure, but spiteful, and funny only in his anger. Shoshana Bean as his recovering alcoholic daughter expresses her frustration with him in the show’s third song, “There’s A Chance,” compounding the case against him. The essential problem here is that nothing about Buddy redeems him — at least, nothing that’s expressed on the cast album. That proviso is necessary because some of the funniest moments in the show were contained in the book, co-written by Crystal with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. For this reviewer, the highlight was a montage in which Buddy humiliated himself on various game shows, meanwhile endearing himself to the audience. Also, as heard on the album, Mr. Saturday Night can feel disjointed; an unexpectedly long flashback sequence (which, due to a lack of interstitial dialogue on the recording, may not even be obvious as a flashback to listeners) does include one of the score’s few truly funny songs, “At Farber’s,” but still seems like an excuse to draw out the skimpy plot. Two of the strongest numbers come towards the end: “Broken,” acted beautifully by David Paymer as Buddy’s long-suffering brother, which adds some variety to the overall sound of the score; and “My Wonderful Pain in the Ass,” a genuinely sweet duet between Buddy and his wife, Elaine (Randy Graff), that’s reminiscent of “Do You Love Me?” from Fiddler on the Roof. Overall, though, Shoshana Bean’s songs prove to be the highlights of the show. In the finale, “Stick Around,” Bean as Buddy’s daughter tells the audience to “stick around — though you sometimes may wonder why.” When you’re listening to this recording and the better songs aren’t playing, those words may seem very well chosen. Charles Kirsch