Producer Hy Juter is raising money to transfer the Jewish Repertory Theatre staging of The Jazz Singer to a commercial run in spring 2000, he told Playbill On-Line.
JRT just completed an Oct. 23-Nov. 21 run that had packed houses cheering the yarn about a song and dance man torn between Broadway and his responsibility to his family tradition, at Playhouse 91.
Director-librettist Richard Sabellico injected American popular songs into the plot's backstage story, which featured Ric Ryder in the title role.
Juter, who has produced stage shows in his native South Africa, owns the musical stage rights to the classic 1925 play by Samson Raphaelson and initiated a workshop that caught the ear of JRT artistic director Ran Avni, who thought the show would be perfect for his audience. The property was licensed to JRT and adapted by Sabellico, a veteran director and a JRT artistic associate.
Juter expects the Off-Broadway capitalization to be $800,000 and is hoping for a 400-600-seat theatre in the first six months of 2000. Juter said he hopes to retain the same cast and creative team, and didn't think the company of eight would be increased. The set is being put in storage. The cast included Evalyn Baron, Beth Leavel, James Murtaugh, Jimmy Peters, Reuben Schaefer, Seth Swoboda and Raymond Thorne.
Juter fell in love with all things related to Al Jolson when he was a child in Cape Town. His mother, who died before she could see the staging of The Jazz Singer, introduced Jolson's work to her son. "I've been a fan all my life," said Juter.
Jolson is linked to the property as star of the famous "talkie" film version of the play, about a Jewish cantor father who expects his son, Jacob Rabinowitz (stage name: Jack Robin), to follow his traditional path rather than sing jazz. The movie set off an industry revolution that left silent pictures in pop culture dustbin.
Solid reviews and enthusiastic audiences for the JRT-staged showbiz melodrama, which officially opened Oct. 31 at Playhouse 91, prompted an extension of one week.
Period songs were interpolated into Samson Raphaelson's three-act drama, creating a new musical play. The musical numbers included "You Made Me Love You," "Baby Face," "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam," "Sonny Boy," "Mammy," "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," "Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" and more.
Designers for the JRT production were Tom Beall (set), Russell Mowery (costume) and Rich Lotta (lighting). Kirby Ward choreographed. Christopher McGovern was vocal arranger, orchestrator and musical director.
"It's about tradition," Sabellico previously told Playbill On-Line. "The resolution is about coming to terms with your family and making peace with the little kid inside who didn't have the chance to say what he wanted to say."
A six-piece band sweetened The Jazz Singer, accompanying the musical sequences for a show-within-a-show, called April Showers.
Is it a musical or a play with music?
Characters do not sing in character, Sabellico said, but there are "big" song and dance sequences. All the songs are "stage" songs sung in context of the Broadway musical that "the jazz singer" is starring in.
Rafaelson's dialogue was weeded through, eliminating some of the cliches of the period. "It was written in 1925," Sabellico said. "What 42nd Street or Crazy for You spoofs, they were dead serious about. But the essence of what he wrote, especially in the family scenes, is full of heart."
Next up for director Sabellico and JRT: The first New York revival of Arthur Laurents' Home of the Brave (1945), Dec. 4-26.
-- By Kenneth Jones