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The past becomes Crystal clear

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Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2007 7:06 am | Updated: 8:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Billy Crystal’s proud to talk about his one-man autobiographical play, “700 Sundays,” the Broadway show he’s bringing Tuesday to Tempe’s Gammage Auditorium for a two-week run.

But, frankly, he’s a little too sidetracked by news that someone’s finally making a large-scale musical of “The Princess Bride,” the swashbuckling medieval 1987 cult comedy flick in which he had a minor role as a grizzled old wizard, aside Carol Kane.

As Miracle Max, he got one of the movie’s most memorable lines: “Have fun stormin’ da castle!”

“Really? They’re finally doing that?” Crystal says, phoning from Los Angeles. “That’s good. We started talking about that a bunch of years ago, five or six years ago, ’cause we thought it’d be a great musical. We just weren’t sure we could get the rights.”

(“The Light in the Piazza” composer Adam Guettel is collaborating with original book writer William Goldman. No date has been announced.)

Crystal pauses.

“I wonder who’ll play me,” he says. “It’s a fun part. Well, I’m available.”

Not exactly. Not just yet.

For now, Crystal, a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday, is busy getting “700 Sundays” back into gear.

DOWN-UNDER DETOUR

His two-act comic reminis- cence of his youth — immersed in the New York jazz scene, spent too briefly with a father who died when Billy was just 15 (the title refers to the amount of time he was able to spend with his hardworking dad) — was a Tony Award-winning Broadway smash in 2004-05, and toured across the country last year to massive audiences.

“They’ve been remarkable everywhere we’ve taken the show,” Crystal says. “They don’t want to leave when it’s over.”

For the next few months, the Long Island native is taking his show to the land of Vegemite and Men at Work. Already, the Australian tour has sold out and extended its performance dates.

To prepare, he’s doing a two-week stint at Gammage, his first time performing in the Valley.

“It’s a terrific theater, I’ve been told by a lot of friends who’ve performed there,” Crystal says, adding that he has several good friends here and business interests as well: He’s a part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Janice (his wife, who coproduced “700 Sundays”) and I became minority owners — and I don’t mean Jewish — as they were being created,” Crystal chuckles. “Jerry Colangelo would see me at (Los Angeles) Clippers games and say, ‘Why are you rooting for this team? You can get something new in baseball; that’s your sport, isn’t it?’ So we got involved in a very small way.”

“700 Sundays” touches on Crystal’s love of the sport — he wanted to be Mickey Mantle, he explains, before a Catskills comic changed his career aspirations for good.

“I could never play baseball like Mickey Mantle ever,” he says, “but this I could do.”

Comedy, of course, launched Crystal into stardom, from TV’s “Saturday Night Live” (“You look maah-valous”) to films including “When Harry Met Sally ...” and “City Slickers,” and back to TV for his frequent stints hosting the Academy Awards.

But fans should know that “700 Sundays” doesn’t step into any of that acting stuff — it’s not a showbiz gabfest like actress Elaine Stritch’s solo show, “At Liberty,” which comes to Scottsdale in March — because Crystal’s frontporch monologue is too busy weaving through his childhood memories of immediate family (plus the family’s 1957 Plymouth Belvedere, Nellie) and the kind of archetypal relations we all seem to share.

“We all have the same five relatives,” Crystal says in the show. “They just jump from album to album.”

FAMILY FRIENDLY

Crystal first thought of the show when he penned a fourpage outline a decade ago, in a fit of midlife retrospection. These days, he looks back and sees that he made the right choices for his family, including two daughters who are now grown: Compared with his father, who promoted jazz concerts, ran a record label and held several jobs at a time, Crystal says he chose long ago to keep work in perspective.

After a stint in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-1980s, he got a jolt from his wife.

“Janice told me, ‘You’re starting to turn into Uncle Daddy,’ ” Crystal says, “And that’s when I decided to not work as hard. Fortunately, that’s when I got into movies.

“I haven’t missed a birthday or a holiday, I’ve done the car pool, it’s been great.”

The Australia tour, too, is an opportunity to travel with his wife. After all, being married to the woman holding the tour’s purse strings has its advantages. “Are you kidding me?” Crystal says. “I get to sleep with the producer.”

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