Al Jolson will be sitting on top of the world once again when his life and times are conjured in the musical biography, Jolson & Company, beginning an Off Broadway run Sept. 12 at the Century Center for the Performing Arts.
The three-actor musical portrait by Stephen Mo Hanan and Jay Berkow is a return to New York for this project, first seen in a staging by the York Theatre Company in 1999-2000. There had been talk of an earlier commercial run beyond the York, but 2002 is the time and the Century Center is the place. All three cast members from the original run — Hanan (as Jolson), Nancy Anderson and Robert Ari — are reunited here, under the direction and musical staging of Berkow.
Jolson & Company casts Hanan, a Tony Award nominated veteran of Cats, as the legendary entertainer of vaudeville, Broadway, radio and screen. Co star Anderson has appeared on Broadway in A Class Act and in the London production of Kiss Me, Kate; Ari has been seen in the Broadway companies of Bells Are Ringing and Laughter on the 23rd Floor. Anderson and Ari play multiple roles.
Opening night is Sept. 29. All tickets are $65. The Century Center is at 111 E. 15th St. (between Union Square and Irving Place). For information, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.jolsonmandcompany.
* The frame of the show is a broadcast interview Jolson gave with Barry Gray at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1949. His life is explored in flashbacks. Peter Larson is musical director, James Morgan is set designer, Gail Baldoni handles costumes, Annmarie Duggan is lighting designer (all were attached to the previous York staging).
The two-act Jolson tuner, a musical docudrama, explores the life of the legendary stage, film and radio star Al Jolson, arguably the most influential performer of the 20th century. Jolson's signature hits, "Rock a Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody," "You Made Me Love You," "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," "California Here I Come," "Swanee," "Sonny Boy," "My Mammy," "April Showers," "Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye," and more, are all part of the show.
The show is populated with 15 other characters from the turn of the century to Jolson's death in 1950. "For a small, intimate show it has a large scale feel because of the historical sweep and because of the size of the main attraction," Hanan told Playbill On-Line. Other characters include Ruby Keeler, Harry Cohn, Mae West, Barry Gray and others.
Hanan has played Captain Hook opposite Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. He earned a Best Featured Actor (Musical) Tony Award nomination for Growltiger/Asparagus in Broadway's Cats.
A spokesman said that prior to the first display ad in newspapers, word of mouth had already prompted an advance sale of $150,000, a modest but promising number for a tiny, little-known show.
— By Andrew Gans and Kenneth Jones