Last Chance: Laurents' Jolson Sings His Last in NJ March 28; NY Next?

News   Last Chance: Laurents' Jolson Sings His Last in NJ March 28; NY Next?
 
Arthur Laurents' well-received play, Jolson Sings Again, ends its scheduled run at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse this weekend, but talks for a New York stint are in the works, according to production spokesperson Gabriel Shanks.

Arthur Laurents' well-received play, Jolson Sings Again, ends its scheduled run at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse this weekend, but talks for a New York stint are in the works, according to production spokesperson Gabriel Shanks.

Jolson Sings Again -- not to be confused with two musicals about Al Jolson: the touring Jolson and the seemingly aborted The Jazz Singer -- examines Hollywood during the McCarthy Era. Laurents' non-musical drama received its East Coast premiere at George Street Feb. 27-March 28, officially opening March 3.

A source close to the production told Playbill On-Line that New York producers have been flocking to New Jersey, among them the Shuberts, the Weisslers, Emanuel Azenberg, Scott Rudin and Daryl Roth. Spokesperson Shanks couldn't discuss which producers were in discussion but did confirm that "a lot of New York producers" have seen the show and that the agents for Laurents and George Street "are in very active negotiations."

Asked if the producers were eyeing Broadway or Off, Shanks said there was a slim possibility that Jolson Sings Again might try to duck into Broadway under the Tony wire (before April 28), "but that would be the fastest transfer I've ever seen." Shanks also noted that while the New York Times review praised the play and the production, the review was not so positive about a particular actor, fueling speculation that if Broadway were the target, a cast change would be necessary. However, Laurents is apparently "very committed to the cast as it is." It's another reason Shanks says a summer Off-Broadway transfer seems more likely for the play, "but I'm just guessing."

* In Jolson Sings Again, an idealistic playwright, in L.A. working on his first screenplay, gets caught up in that tumultuous period in history, when actor Larry Parks (who played Al Jolson onscreen) becomes the first star witness to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. A small group of friends -- including a film director, a gay writer, and a Jewish couple -- struggle over whether to appear before the Committee, and soon see their dreams and values destroyed.

The show's timing has been especially salubrious, considering the recent Academy Award uproar over the voluntarily voluble Elia Kazan receiving a special Oscar.

An accomplished director, playwright, librettist, and screenwriter, Laurents is best known for penning the books to the musicals Gypsy and West Side Story. The recipient of two Tony Awards, he has been inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.

Directed by George Street artistic director David Saint, Jolson features Armand Schultz, Robert Petkoff, Betsy Aidem and Jonathan Hadary, who was nominated for a Tony for his role opposite Tyne Daly in the Broadway revival of Gypsy.

Laurents wrote Jolson Sings Again in 1992 and first tried it out at Seattle Rep in 1995. "It was an unfortunate production," Laurents told NJ writer and critic Simon Saltzman. "Only a month before rehearsals were to begin, the producers suddenly pulled out. And so did the stars." The play was hastily recast (and, to Laurents' mind, miscast). 

NJ director Saint didn't see the Seattle Jolson but became the director of choice while directing another Laurents play, My Good Name at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor this past summer. That show was first workshopped at Seattle Rep, where four George Street staffers saw it. They watched it again at Bay Street, this time under Saint's direction. Laurents recalls, "`What a great re-write you did on the play,' they said. "I hadn't touched it, yet it was a totally different play. [Saint] gave the play what it needed. Now I sit though rehearsals of Jolson Sings Again and am also amazed. David's direction and the cast are responsible for the enormous difference. It's so different and so much more of what I wanted than the production in Seattle. I've also changed my attitude somewhat about that era," he said. The design team for Jolson includes Broadway veterans Theoni V. Aldredge (costume), Howell Binkley (lighting), Jim Youmans (set), David Van Tieghem (sound/composer).

During the run of Jolson a retrospective of the work of Tony- and Academy Award-winning costume designer Aldredge has been on exhibit at the theatre's Cabaret Gallery. Original costume sketches from the last five decades will be displayed publicly for the first time ever, including designs from West Side Story, Dreamgirls, and La Cage aux Folles.

Aldredge has designed costumes for more than 30 films and 200-plus theatre and opera productions, winning an Oscar for "The Great Gatsby" and Tonys for Barnum, Annie, and La Cage. Admission to the gallery is free during daytime box office hours.

The George Street Playhouse is at 9 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, N.J. Tickets are $22 to $36. Call (732) 246-7717.

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