After receiving its East Coast premiere at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse, Arthur Laurents' examination of Hollywood during the McCarthy Era, Jolson Sings Again, is considering a move in Winter 1999 or Early Spring 2000. A production spokesperson told PBOL (May 25), "The only thing holding them up right now is the size of the house they need. The show had a very big set and Arthur [Laurents] is used to doing things on a big scale, so they're looking right now at several options."
The source also told PBOL there are serious talks with the Variety Arts Theatre (currently home to Savion Glover/Downtown), but The Variety "hasn't been tossed around recently."
In this nonmusical play, 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 on screen) 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.
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.
The George Street Theatre production was directed by artistic director David Saint and featured Armand Schultz, Robert Petkoff, Betsy Aidem and Jonathan (Assassins, Destiny of Me) Hadary. 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).
When the play was revived by The Bay Street Theatre, "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," Laurents said.
The design team for Jolson at The George Street included Broadway veterans Theoni V. Aldredge (costume), Howell Binkley (lighting), Jim Youmans (set), David Van Tieghem (sound/composer).
-- By Sean McGrath