ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT BY IRV RIKON
JOLSON AT THE WINTER GARDEN! IS AT THE MALTZ
If you're old enough to have loved Al Jolson, you can see and hear Mike Burstyn portray him at the MALTZ JUPITER THEATRE in a vehicle entitled Jolson At the Winter Garden! Mr. Burstyn, New York born but one of Israel's most beloved artists, sings virtually all the famous songs associated with the self-styled "World's Greatest Entertainer". Created and written by Mr. Burstyn and Bill Castellino, who was also one of the creators of Cagney, this is not quite a concert, nor does it have a "book". It could be a one-man show with musicians, but it isn't that either. Three back-up singers accompany him, and one briefly acts as "Ruby," who was actually Ruby Keeler, a major star in her own right, a fact ignored here. What you get are songs like "Swanee," "Rockabye Your Baby," "Toot Toot Tootsie," "April Showers," "Sitting on Top Of the World," "Sonny Boy" and "My Mammy". In his day, Jolson turned all of these, and more, into big hits.
For those of you who are younger, Al Jolson appeared in the first "talking" motion picture, The Jazz Singer, in which he played the son of a Jewish cantor, as he was in real life, who aspired to be a "showbusiness" entertainer. The movie caused a sensation, and suddenly "talkies" were in. Two films were made about him, The Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again, both starring Larry Parks. A clip of Parks as Jolson opens this show. It's from the films and his recordings that I know Jolson; he was slightly before my time. On the other hand, my parents thought he was great.
Looking back, Al was sort of the Elvis of his day. He swiveled his hips, mostly from side to side, and he moved about in a dynamic way that gave him sensual as well as dramatic attention. He came to public notice in the days of vaudeville, so that unlike performers of today, he could project and be heard in a big theater like New York's Winter Garden without the use of a microphone.
As I've noted, this show is mainly a compilation of songs, which Mr. Burstyn sings serviceably, although to my own tastes, he rather lacks some of the charisma I was hoping to find. Anyway, most of these songs you won't hear anyone else sing but Jolson, and I found myself humming, even dancing to some of them, long after I came home.
The show runs through March 13. For tickets and additional information, telephone 575-2223 or online www.jupitertheatre.org.