In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the music of Bruce Springsteen was pumped through the theater of the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino before the lights went down and “Spend the Night With Billy Crystal” started.
Springsteen is, after all, well-known for his marathon concert performances. And at just over two-and-a-half hours, Crystal’s Biloxi show was a marathon of storytelling.
Although the show was more than two hours long, there’s now way that Crystal could have covered every aspect of his career.
Crystal, who said he was making his first appearance in Mississippi, was joined by comic and actress Bonnie Hunt (”The Bonnie Hunt Show,” “Cheaper by The Dozen”) serving as Crystal’s moderator as he looked back over a long career in show business — a career that includes playing one of the first gay characters on TV (“Soap”), a stint on the venerable late night comedy show “Saturday Night Live” and several roles in films including opposite Gregory Hines in “Running Scared” and as Mike in the beloved, at least at the Clark home, Pixar film “Monsters, Inc.”
What he did share was funny and, at times, poignant. Crystal, 68, told anecdotes about his marriage of almost 47 years to his wife, Janice, as well as humorous stories about his grandchildren and other family members.
Crystal, who said he used to open for the rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears, did a bit about the band’s singer, David Clayton-Thomas, that was hilarious. It was a well-rounded piece that was basically a small three-act play.
And yes, Crystal did his impressions, or “portraits” as he called them, of Muhammad Ali and Sammy Davis Jr. Hearing Crystal’s first-hand accounts of his friendship with the two legends was the heart of the show. It was clearly evident that he had a great affection for both.
The bit about pulling practical jokes on Sammy Davis Jr. was laugh-out-loud funny. But what separates Crystal from other comics who do impressions is that his come from a place of love, not cynicism. You could feel that as he shared tales from the month he opened for the great entertainer.
If an artist is great, there should always be something that you anticipate about their performances, whether it’s sitting on the edge of your seat until Paul Anka sings “My Way” or Willie Nelson does “Angel Flying To Close to The Ground.” These are the iconic moments around which memories are built.
For those who appreciate Crystal, that iconic moment is to see him do his tribute to Ali. He did not disappoint in Biloxi.
We were treated to a beautiful story about their friendship that lasted until the day Ali died — June 3, 2016. Crystal was one of the speakers at Ali’s funeral.
Crystal also made reference to what may be his greatest body of work — a piece he did at Ali’s retirement party called “15 Rounds.” He showed a clip from the bit on a video screen. And in a surreal meta moment, we were allowed to watch Crystal watch Ali watching him play Ali. It was a magical moment.
You can watch it below.
At the end of the night, Crystal and Hunt paid tribute to their friend — the late Robin Williams. Although it could have been a gut-wrenching closer for the show, they handled it in a very loving and kind manner that was the perfect ending into a look at the life and mind of Billy Crystal.