"Mammy." "Swanee." "April Showers."
Take one guess who York Theatre Company is celebrating in its first production of the 31st season, opening Dec. 9.
After two and half weeks of previews, York Theatre in Manhattan unveils Jolson & Co., the world premiere musical docudrama about Al Jolson, by Stephen Mo Hanan and Jay Berkow, directed by Berkow.
The two-act Jolson tuner, which began previews Nov. 23 and continues at least to Jan. 2, 2000, documents the life of the legendary stage, film and radio star, 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," "California Here I Come," "Swanee," "Sonny Boy," "April Showers," "Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye," and more, are all part of the show.
Hanan, who has played Captain Hook opposite Cathy Rigby, will play Jolson. He earned a Best Featured Actor (Musical) Tony Award nomination for Growltiger/Asparagus in Broadway's Cats. Robert Ari and Nancy Anderson play the loves and/or associates in his life, from Ruby Keeler to Henny Youngman to Harry Cohn to Mae West.
York artistic director James Morgan told Playbill On-Line that he saw a tape of Hanan performing in a one-man Jolson show, directed by Berkow, and was excited by the work.
"I was so impressed," Morgan said. "I thought his performance was incredible, it was astounding."
Berkow and Hanan began working on their own Jolson play, and Morgan was interested: "To have it playing as the century changes is really something because he's certainly one of the most important entertainers of the 20th century..."
The frame of the new show is a broadcast interview Jolson gave with Barry Gray at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1949. His life is explored in flashbacks.
Designers are Morgan (set), Annmarie Duggan (lighting), Gail Baldoni (costumes). Musical direction is by Peter Larson.
Tickets are $40-$45.
The planned John Latouche revue, Taking a Chance on Love, expected in the November-December slot at York, has been bumped to Feb. 15-March 26, 2000.
The third mainstage show will be Postcards on Parade, with book and lyrics by Kenward Elmslie (The Grass Harp) and music by Steven Taylor. Performances are April 11-May 28, 2000.
It's described as "an absurdly funny love story which takes a phantasmagoric look at the quirky world of postcards and postcard collectors."
The York Theatre Company is New York City's major small-venue showcase for intimate musicals (Little by Little, After the Fair). In addition to its mainstage season, which offers three shows, York also produces a popular series of "underappreciated" old musicals in concert form under the title "Musicals in Mufti." A new slate is expected for January February.
The York Theatre Company performs in the Theatre at St. Peter's Church, Citicorp Center, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street in Manhattan. Call (212) 935-5824 for information or (212) 239-6200 for tickets.
-- By Kenneth Jones