Friday, March 4, 2011

Maltz Jupiter Theatre: Jolson at the Wintergarden (3 reviews)

Jolson at the Wintergarden opened at The Maltz Jupiter Theatre on February 22, 2011.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer in the world – singer, dancer, actor, comedian, impresario, rebel, businessman and star. In this fascinating musical, Jolson at the Winter Garden!, we learn about his meteoric career, which was created, lost and reborn. This show, which combines such hit tunes as Swanee, Toot Toot Tootsie and My Mammy with hilarious stories and touching memories, will be a thrilling and unforgettable night in the theatre!
Bill Castellino directed and choreographed a cast that included Mike Burstyn, Jackie Bayne, Laura Hodos, and Wayne LeGette.

John Lariviere reviewed for Talkin' Broadway:
A live eight-piece combo deftly provides accompaniment onstage for Jolson and his trio, comprised of Jacqueline Bayne, Laura Hodos and Wayne LeGette. Regrettably, the talents of the trio are not fully showcased. Perhaps they may have best been used in more carefully thought out cameos such as "You Made Me Love You", which beautifully spotlights the singing and dancing talents of Jacqueline Bayne. The three don't sing or dance nearly as much as one would expect...
Burstyn really does sound like Jolson, whether singing or speaking. Some of the keys may be lower than Jolson's, but they fit nicely into Burstyn's baritone voice in a way that enables him to manipulate his sound to be like that of Jolson.
The physicality of Jolson is sorely missing form Burstyn's portrayal, however. Jolson was known as an over-the-top performer who grabbed his audience by the collar with his energy. His exaggerated facial expressions, eye rolls, and rubbery dance moves are part of the package that made him a great seller-of-songs... Burstyn gives us a bit of Jolson's physicality in the first two songs only, then quickly morphs into the very stand-and-sing performing style with which Jolson did not want to be identified.
Burstyn needs to be more at-risk and raise the stakes of his portrayal of Jolson....because of this and the rather thin script, Al Jolson At The Winter Garden! is best described as very pleasant entertainment in search of a needed booster shot of excitement.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the South Florida Theater Review:
The world premiere of Jolson at the Winter Garden at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Thursday was exactly what you’d expect: a well-produced songbook revue jammed with familiar crowd-pleasing tunes and featuring a bravura turn by Mike Burstyn as the self-styled world’s greatest entertainer.
Nearly two dozen songs in 90 minutes covered every Jolson standard from Swanee to My Mammy to Rockabye Your Baby to Sonny Boy to…well, you get the idea. But Burstyn and company delivered these sentimental warhorses with absolute respect and not a trace of irony. Given such a loving treatment, the melodious tunes and the heartfelt lyrics didn’t sound corny, simply sincere.
Burstyn, who has played Jolson in another musical, doesn’t look much like the original. But he has Jolson’s prizefighter energy, the endearing pugnacious persona, the showbiz pizzazz and, above all, that voice. Burstyn has nailed Jolson’s strong baritone with that slightly raspy timbre so well that you can close your eyes and wonder whether Jolson has indeed returned from the grave for one night.
Hap Erstein reviewed for The Palm Beach Post:
There are many ways to make Jolson’s life and career theatrically interesting, but Jolson at the Winter Garden! chooses none of them. Yes, Burstyn sings well, has clearly studied Jolson’s bug-eyed, slack-jawed facial expressions and knows how to put across these schmaltzy pop standards.  But as an evening of theater, the show that director-choreographer Bill Castellino created and wrote with Burstyn has virtually no creative spark.
If that is what you are after – insistent renditions of such classic tunes as Rockabye Your Baby, Blue Skies, April Showers, Toot Toot Toosie, Swanee and, of course, My Mammy – then head to the Maltz. After all, Burstyn is working hard and delivering the goods, even if the show should receive a traffic ticket for lazy writing.
I have to say that I think Hap missed the point of the show; he obviously came in having already decided what he wanted it to be, and of course no show can live up to that.  Hap wanted to see a biographical piece.  But the title tells you what this show is, and it delivers exactly what it promises: Al Jolson in performance at The Wintergarden Theater.  And that is the standard that Hap should have used to measure the show. 

Hap's review gets a big red F, for failing to abide by basic critical standards: one is to review the show that is offered, and not the one the critic believes should have been offered instead.

Jolson at the Wintergarden plays at The Maltz Jupiter Theatre through March 13, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. After seeing the Jolson at the Winter Garden last week, I have to say that Hap's review reflects my own opinion of the show.

    Just read the last sentence in each of Hap's two paragraphs above -- sums it up accurately.