The Broadway-bound production of The Jazz Singer apparently has resolved its financing difficulties and is back on track for a January 1999 opening -- with a new actress as leading lady.
Last week, reports began filtering in that The Jazz Singer was having serious trouble raising necessary funding for its planned Broadway opening in January. A June 29 article in Variety questions whether funding for the show has fallen through, but as reported by Playbill On Line June 26 and confirmed again by producer Hy Juter, June 30, the show is "very much back on track."
Juter had told Playbill On-Line (June 26) that plans were indeed delayed a bit when a key investor had to postpone sending his check because of money that hadn't yet come to him. "That held us up," Juter told Playbill On-Line, "because we didn't want to sign all the contracts until all the money came through. Yesterday [June 25, the investor] called me, sent me some documents, I faxed them back to his attorney -- and next Tuesday or Wednesday [July 1 or 2], the money comes through. Absolutely everything is on track and we're moving forward."
The Jazz Singer is scheduled to start Broadway previews Dec. 17 and open Jan. 7, 1999, after a four-week tryout at Boston's Colonial Theatre, starting Nov. 2. As of June 26, a NY venue had not yet been chosen.
Sam Harris, of The Life, will play entertainer Al Jolson in the show, which has a score by Will Holt (Jack), augmented by tunes made famous by Jolson. Sherman Yellen penned the book. Gabriel Barre (an actor in Ain't Broadway Grand) is directing, with Randy Skinner choreographing. Many actors in the show's early workshops are still with the production, although as reported by the NY Post (June 26) and confirmed by a production spokesperson, Jean Louisa Kelly has replaced Mylinda Hull as Ruby Keeler. Kelly played opposite Richard Dreyfuss in the film, Mr. Holland's Opus.
Said producer Juter weeks ago, "We plan to keep almost almost everybody we had in the workshop, assuming conflicts can be worked out. We had a dream cast in the workshop:" Sam Harris, Larry Keith (as the father), Peter Marx, who recently legally changed his name from Peter Slutsker (as Jolson's sidekick), Marcus Neville (as Georgie Jessel), Ron Wisniski (as movie producer Harry Cohn), Rudy Roberson (as Jolson's close friend, Eubie Blake), James Darrah, Will Shaw and Charlie Marcus.
Herndon Lackey played Walter Winchell in the workshop but will not be in the show. The role of Johnny Costello may or may not be played by Joseph Siravo, who was in the workshop.
Michael Gibson is doing the orchestrations; Wally Harper will arrange the dance music. Designers include Robin Wagner (set), Willa Kim (The Will Rogers Follies) (costumes) and Timothy Hunter (lighting).
The Jazz Singer intends to take a realistic look at Jolson's life, focusing particularly on his relationship to his father, his wife Ruby Keeler, his audience, and his ego. Also addressed will be Jolson's trademark propensity to perform in blackface. Holt will fill the score with songs written in the style of the popular composers of Jolson's day, such as Irving Berlin and Harry Warren. Also included will be various songs the singer made famous, such as "Swanee," "April Showers," "Baby Face," and "Toot, Toot, Tootsie! Goodbye."
Around the same time as The Jazz Singer, America will get another big-budget musicals based on the life of 1920s singer Jolson. Jolson: The Musical, an award-winning hit in London, 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, The Jazz Singer (named after the very first commercially released talking film, in which Jolson starred), had announced it was going into rehearsal with an opening planned for fall 1996 or winter 1997. (As mentioned above, the American show is now scheduled to arrive Jan. 1999.)
The similarly delayed London Jolson: The Musical, penned by Francis Essex & Rob Bettinson from an idea by Michael Freedland, now has scheduled its U.S. premiere, Oct. 13 at Cleveland, OH's Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square for 3-week run. A 34-city national tour of the show, directed by Bruce Lumpkin (Walnut Street Theatre's The Goodbye Girl), follows.
Reached June 26, spokespersons at Cromarty & Co. couldn't say whether Brian Conley, an Olivier Award nominee for his star turn in the London production, would repeat his Jolson in the U.S. tour.
Will one Jolson 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. Production spokesperson Phil Thurston (of Cromarty & Co.) did tell Playbill On-Line it was unlikely the Jolson's would go head to-head for a long time, since Broadway was not on the touring itinerary of Jolson: The Musical. "We're playing a lot of big cities across the country," said Thurston, "but if we hit New York, that'll be a whole other announcement at that point."
The U.S. Jolson features costumes by Bruce Harrow, lighting by John McLain, sets by James Fouchard, and choreography by Richard Stafford.
Jolson (1886-1950), billed as "The World's Greatest Entertainer," starred in such hit musicals as Sinbad and Bombo. His made movie history in 1927 by appearing in the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer.