Last week, contradicting reports in such theatre news sources as Variety, the Daily News and InTheater's website, producer Hy Juter told Playbill On-Line (July 2) his Broadway production The Jazz Singer "is not dead by any means."
A June 29 article in Variety had questioned whether funding for the show had fallen through, and indeed, the show is still waiting for a check from a major investor that was expected weeks ago. However, at the time Juter said, "I'm very optimistic that sometime next week [July 6-10] we'll have a check. The investor is calling a meeting for all my people, all my creative team. He's says he's going to put it straight and give us a check and also tell us about the rest of the money and how it'll be in the account."
Reached July 9, Juter told Playbill On-Line it would still take a couple more days for the money to come through, but after speaking with the producer he was still "very optimistic" the show would be on track for its Boston tryout.
But what if the money is again postponed or cancelled? "Well, we'd have to delay the Boston tryout," said Juter days earlier. "But remember, I'm meeting with other investors..., and I'm also getting calls from regional theatres. So even if the check doesn't come through, there are still things happening. And I'm pulling my hair out reading these stories about how the show's dead, but I can't really respond until I have the check. And until I show people the money, they won't believe me. "
Juter wouldn't say how much money was involved. The major dailies have pegged the figure at $3 million -- "I don't know where that number came from," Juter told Playbill On-Line. Earlier, Juter had told Playbill On-Line (June 26) the funding delay held up the production, "because we didn't want to sign all the contracts until all the money came through. Yesterday [June 25, the investor] called me, sent me some documents, I faxed them back to his attorney -- and next Tuesday or Wednesday [July 1 or 2], the money comes through. Absolutely everything is on track and we're moving forward."
The Jazz Singer is still scheduled to start Broadway previews Dec. 17 and open Jan. 7, 1999, after a four-week tryout at Boston's Colonial Theatre, starting Nov. 2. As of July 9, a NY venue had not yet been chosen.
Sam Harris, of The Life, is set to play entertainer Al Jolson in the show, which has a score by Will Holt (Jack), augmented by tunes made famous by Jolson. Sherman Yellen penned the book. Gabriel Barre (an actor in Ain't Broadway Grand) is directing, with Randy Skinner choreographing.
Many actors in the show's early workshops are still with the production, although as reported by the NY Post (June 26) and confirmed by a production spokesperson, Jean Louisa Kelly has replaced Mylinda Hull as Ruby Keeler. Kelly played opposite Richard Dreyfuss in the film, Mr. Holland's Opus.
Said producer Juter weeks ago, "We plan to keep almost almost everybody we had in the workshop, assuming conflicts can be worked out. We had a dream cast in the workshop:" Sam Harris, Larry Keith (as the father), Peter Marx, who recently legally changed his name from Peter Slutsker (as Jolson's sidekick), Marcus Neville (as Georgie Jessel), Ron Wisniski (as movie producer Harry Cohn), Rudy Roberson (as Jolson's close friend, Eubie Blake), James Darrah, Will Shaw and Charlie Marcus.
Herndon Lackey played Walter Winchell in the workshop but will not be in the show. The role of Johnny Costello may or may not be played by Joseph Siravo, who was in the workshop.
Michael Gibson is doing the orchestrations; Wally Harper will arrange the dance music. Designers include Robin Wagner (set), Willa Kim (The Will Rogers Follies) (costumes) and Timothy Hunter (lighting).
The Jazz Singer (named after the very first commercially released talking film, in which Jolson starred) intends to take a realistic look at Jolson's life, focusing particularly on his relationship to his father, his wife Ruby Keeler, his audience, and his ego. Also addressed will be Jolson's trademark propensity to perform in blackface. Holt will fill the score with songs written in the style of the popular composers of Jolson's day, such as Irving Berlin and Harry Warren. Also included will be various songs the singer made famous, such as "Swanee," "April Showers," "Baby Face," and "Toot, Toot, Tootsie! Goodbye."
Around the same time as The Jazz Singer, America will get another big-budget musical based on the life of 1920s singer Jolson. Jolson: The Musical, an award-winning hit in London, bravely announced that it would cross the Atlantic and open on Broadway as one of the first musicals of the 1997-98 season. But within weeks the competing The Jazz Singer had announced it was going into rehearsals, which also were subsequently postponed.
Jolson: The Musical, penned by Francis Essex & Rob Bettinson from an idea by Michael Freedland, now has scheduled its U.S. premiere, Oct. 13 at Cleveland, OH's Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square for 3-week run. A 34-city national tour of the show, directed by Bruce Lumpkin (Walnut Street Theatre's The Goodbye Girl), follows.
Reached June 26, spokespersons at Cromarty & Co. couldn't say whether Brian Conley, an Olivier Award nominee for his star turn in the London production, would repeat his Jolson in the U.S. tour.
Will one Jolson trump the other, as happened when Andrew Lloyd Webber announced he was doing Phantom of the Opera -- while both Ken Hill and Maury Yeston had their own versions in the pipeline in the early 1980s? Stay tuned. Production spokesperson Phil Thurston (of Cromarty & Co.) did tell Playbill On-Line it was unlikely the dueling Jolsons would go head to-head for a long time, since Broadway was not on the touring itinerary of Jolson: The Musical. "We're playing a lot of big cities across the country," said Thurston, "but if we hit New York, that'll be a whole other announcement at that point."
The U.S. Jolson features costumes by Bruce Harrow, lighting by John McLain, sets by James Fouchard, and choreography by Richard Stafford.
Jolson (1886-1950), billed as "The World's Greatest Entertainer," starred in such hit musicals as Sinbad and Bombo. His made movie history in 1927 by appearing in the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer.