RCL Exclusive

Billy Crystal Comes Out Zinging at the White House

His comedy “Have a Nice Day” focuses on a supposedly fictional president in free fall.

Theater By

Billy Crystal’s new comedy elected to take on the presidency — without actually getting too political.

Radio days were here again when Crystal brought a starry troupe to the Minetta Lane Theatre in Manhattan on Sunday for the first of a two-night live recording of “Have a Nice Day.”

The show’s presenter, Audible.com, will release the show as an audio play on Nov. 2.

Kevin Kline and Annette Bening led the production as President David Murray and First Lady Katherine Murray. Perched on stools, they held scripts in their hands and stood before music stands that lined the stage to deliver lines. Darrell Hammond, Justin Bartha, Rachel Dratch, Christopher Jackson, Irene Bedard, Auli’i Cravalho, among others, stepped up for supporting roles.

Audible Theater Presents ‘Have A Nice Day’ (From l.) Robin Thede, Auli’i Cravalho, Annette Bening, Billy Crystal, Kevin Kline, Christopher Jackson, Darrell Hammond, Rachel Dratch. (Marion Curtis / StarPix for Audible)

Dick Cavett, seated in a chair on one end of the stage, served as the narrator who set the scenes among various rooms of the White House and, in a goofy detour, a Piggly Wiggly supermarket. A Foley artist stood at the other end of the stage before a collection of bells, books, shoes, papers and other thingamajigs used to supply sound effects.

At the center of it all was Crystal, who knows his way around a stage and live performance, having hosted the Oscars, acted on “Saturday Night Live” and starred on Broadway in the one-man show about growing up on Long Island, “700 Sundays.” If the star turn by Mr. “You look… mahvelous!” seemed more like death warmed over, well, that fits. He plays a flunky of the Angel of Death who informs the POTUS that his time is up. Negotiations, complications, and various twists and turns ensue.

The comedy is based on an unproduced screenplay Crystal wrote with Quinton Peeples eight years ago. The story is by turns topical and old-fashioned, and owes something of a debt to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  As in that classic film, “Have a Nice Day” features a stumblebum otherworldly emissary who gets everything wrong, but manages, miraculously, to make things right. Along the way, Crystal’s clumsy “repo man” inspires the leader of the free world to consider what’s most important to him and the legacy he will leave behind.

While the show only fitfully delivers laughs it has a big heart. Moreover, Crystal, 70, a Tony- and Emmy-winner, earns points for steering clear of the current occupants of the White House in his political comedy. Hewing too close to reality can lead to  buzzkill, whether it’s a drama  or comedy.

Decades after the radio drama “War of the Worlds” riveted listeners, audio plays are enjoying a resurgence, thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of podcasts. Crystal and company are wise to that. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your earbuds.

“Have a Nice Day” wraps its sold-out, two-night run directed by John Rando on Monday.