Two big-budget musicals based on the life of 1920s singer Al Jolson are being prepared for Broadway in the coming year.
Jolson: The Musical, an award-winning hit in London this season, 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, an American version of the story The Jazz Singer (named after the very first commercially released talkie, in which Jolson starred), announced it was going into rehearsal this summer with an opening planned for fall 1996 or winter 1997. The American show has a score by Will Holt and book by Sherman Yellen.
Will one version 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.
Jolson was a blackface comedian who became popular for his soulful renditions of "Mammy," "Swanee" and other songs. Offstage, he was married to singer Ruby Keeler.
As for the coincidence of different projects on a common theme, there must be something in the air. Two other characters will see multiple stage incarnations in coming months.* In July of 1996, the theatre world will get dueling Martin Guerres when one musical version of the story, Martin Guerre by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg (Les Miserables), opens in London, while The House of Martin Guerre by Leslie Arden based on the same story opens at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
* There seems to be a rush on actor John Barrymore as well, with no fewer than three incarnations appearing on Broadway in one year's time. Nicol Williamson's Jack: A Night on the Town With John Barrymore opened in April 1996. Christopher Plummer has booked his Barrymore for February 1997, and Tommy Tune is preparing a new musical, The Royal Family of Broadway (a thinly veiled parody/tribute of the Barrymore clan), for spring 1997.