“You won’t have to walk a million miles for one of his smiles, when you experience Mike Burstyn as he brings Al Jolson back to life in this musical extravaganza. Burstyn runs the gamut of emotions as he serenades the audience with hits such as ‘Swanee,’ ‘Rock A Bye Your Baby,’ and many others you may have forgotten. A must see!
Steve Zall, Hollywood Weekly Magazine
Wow! It’s Jolson at the Winter Garden reprised by master song and dance man Mike Burstyn, and it’s going to take major control to keep from singing along! He’s terrific, and so it the show."
Jolson at the Winter Garden is about as close as you can get to the man who really was the Entertainer of the Century, bigger than Michael Jackson, and considerably less self destructive. Mike Burstyn in Al Jolson in the play, which gives you Jolson up close and personal at one of the many Sunday nights when he played the Winter Garden in New York., doing his own show, singing and bantering with the audience as only Jolson could. It's at the El Portal in the center of NoHo (North Hollywood for those not quite so hip) through this weekend and well worth a trip just to see what star power was before the electronic media made everyone a star. Burstyn gets right into the face of the audience to sing everything from “California, Here I Come” to the vaudeville number “What Did Robinson Crusoe Do with Friday on Saturday night,” all dressed in a simple gray suit, with only a walking stick for help. Five musicians and four singers back him up as he tells jokes and sings songs that everyone in the audience already knows. He gets a little help from his audience, of course, because Jolson knew the audience and they knew him. From “April Showers” to “Mammy,” he was the voice of a generation and still plays to the young audience as well. You don't have to be sixty or so to enjoy the show: Jolson didn't invent jazz, but he did as much as anyone to give what was then a new style the first boost it got.
John Farrell, Special to Random Lengths News
".....And speaking of Jolson..... Jolson At the Winter Garden is a pleasant presentation with one great star–Mike Burstyn. From beginning to the very end of the show, it is Burstyn whose singing and limited hoofing bring Jolson to life. If you yearn to hear Jolie sing again, and who doesn’t, you’ll be enthralled with this brilliant, captivating entertainer’s delivery of standards like Swanee, Toot Toot Tootsie, Sonny Boy, Mammy and a host of other classics. The direction, staging, dialogue are overshadowed by Burstyn’s energetic performance. Close your eyes and darn if Jolie isn't in front of you singing his heart out and saying, “You ain't heard nothin’ yet.” At the opening show, Burstyn received a long and well deserved standing ovation. I am sure that scene will be played over and over again in the ensuing weeks at the El Portal Theatre in NoHo."
BEVERLY HILLS COURIER | SEPTEMBER 16, 2011
STAGE/SCREEN, Jerry Cutler
"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."
The 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.
It’s material that targeted the Maltz’s core audience of older patrons so precisely that many sang along with some standards without being asked, transported across space and time. But when Burstyn did come out into the audience to enlist its aid in singing Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Be In Carolina in the Morning, not only did no one have to be prodded, the whole house knew every word of the chorus.
Jolson, for those too young to know, was the preeminent American entertainer in the first half of the 20th century. Starting in vaudeville and minstrel shows, his popularity reached levels previously unknown in popular culture. When he turned to film, it was his voice in The Jazz Singer that uttered the first words heard in movie theaters.
But this is a revue, not a bio-musical, so even though a trio of backup singers pepper the audience with factoids describing Jolson’s accomplishments (“Al, you were the first person to earn $10,000 a week before World War I”), it simply gives a flavor of his importance and we never see past the entertainer’s façade to the difficult human being who was both adored and despised offstage.
As a result, most audience members under 60 may admire this work, even be surprised by how sturdy these songs are when properly presented. But they won’t be moved or enthralled as will seniors who bring a storehouse of memories to the evening and for whom only biographical shorthand is necessary.
The script was written by Burstyn and director/choreographer Bill Castellino in preparation for a national tour. Castellino and musical director Christopher McGovern are co-creators of Florida Stage’s musicals Cagney, Backwards in High Heels and Dr. Radio.
When the real Jolson grew bored with paper-thin book shows, he reputedly abandoned them in mid-performance and asked the audience if they wouldn’t rather he just sing his hits. Which they did. And he did. And this does.
The backup singers (Laura Hodos, Wayne LeGette and Jacqueline Bayne) get a few solos to allow Burstyn a breather. But the show belongs to Burstyn.
Burstyn, who has played Jolson in another musical 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.
Jolson tells the audience that he was basically a salesman and Burstyn, indeed, sells these songs with an assured skill, fists pumping the air, arms outstretched with palms upward.
The Maltz has invested its customary care in producing the work with serviceable, but attractive sets; nimble lighting and a solid eight-piece combo perched on a bandstand, led by McGovern.
Still, Jolson at the Winter Garden gives the audience a chance to watch two men do what they love to do – Jolson and Burstyn – and that enthusiasm is infectious.
Jolson at the Winter Garden plays through Mar. 13 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road in Jupiter. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $43-$60, available by calling (561) 575-2223 or jupitertheatre.org.