Billy Crystal’s Broadway remake of his 1992 comedy “Mr. Saturday Night” opens in March, and it’s all thanks to legendary producer Mel Brooks — who is not directly involved in the show in any way.
During his interview on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Tuesday night, iconic comedian Crystal told the story of how a phone call from Brooks offering him the leading role in his Broadway hit “The Producers,” just as Crystal was ending his more-than-200-show run of “700 Sundays” in 2005.
“It actually started many years ago, when I was finishing the run of my one-man show, ‘700 Sundays’ on Broadway, and across the street was ‘The Producers,’ Mel Brooks’ great show,” Crystal told Jimmy Kimmel. “So, we finished our run, it was very successful, we won a Tony and all that. And I was exhausted and so anxious to get home after doing over 200-and-something shows. And the phone rings and it’s Mel, who is like an uncle to me. ‘Billy, hi, it’s Mel. Listen, I have two things I want to talk to you about. First, I’d love you to come to do ‘The Producers.’ You could play Max Bialystock, you do six months, it would be fantastic.’ I say, ‘Mel, I love you so much, I’ve been waiting for a call from you for my entire life, it seems like, to work with you. But I really don’t want to be the fifth guy to play Max Bialystock.’ He said, ‘You won’t be! You’ll be the 12th!’”
OK, so that wasn’t going to work out for Crystal, but Brooks had more to say: “‘Somebody called me from London and they were talking about, I’m going to do ‘Young Frankenstein’ as a musical, and they mentioned, we love ‘Mr. Saturday Night’ the movie so much, might that be a musical?’” Brooks said, according to Crystal. “‘So I’m just putting that in your head, I’m putting it in your head.’”
Crystal says it stayed in his head for all of these years, and he finally started “seriously” thinking about it with Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, his co-writers on the film “Mr. Saturday Night.”
“And we said, ‘Let’s see what we have.’ And we wrote a really funny book and we got an incredible composer,” he shared.
The bright side of Brooks taking too long to cast Crystal in “The Producers” is that in prompting him to do “Mr. Saturday Night” as a Broadway show later in life, he really helped Crystal and the production save money on the old-man makeup.
“It’s so exciting to play this guy again. Because when I played him — he’s a 73-year-old comedian — when we did the movie, I was 43. And I had five-and-a-half hours of makeup every day to play him. Now, I just show up.”
Watch the full interview above.