Jan 8

JOLSON AT THE WINTER GARDEN

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“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."  

Cynthia Citron, www.cynthiacitron.com

 

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.

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  • PRAISE FOR MIKE BURSTYN in "LANSKY" "A true master of the acting craft…the tour-de-force that is Mike Burstyn" Beverly Hills Courier "A superb storyteller and mimic." Variety "Burstyn makes the aging gangster smilingly gregarious." L.A. Times "A gripping one-man show." Jewish Journal "Burstyn’s characterisation presents a model of self-referential rectitude." Backstage "An actor who can bring off a charismatic, schmoozing big shot." Daily News A Special Curtain Speech There was a dramatic "curtain speech" after Sunday night's special Actors' Fund performance of "Lansky." Mike Burstyn, who shakes the rafters at the Odyssey Theater in West L.A. playing the powerful-pitiful Meyer Lansky, followed the (nightly) standing ovation with this dramatic tribute to the Actors' Fund: "In 1995, my first wife, Edie, was in her 4th year of her brave battle against ovarian cancer at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. The enormity of the hospital and medical bills became insurmountable. It was the Actors Fund that came to our rescue. As it has for others in our business for the past 125 years. If not for their financial and moral support, we probably would have had to sell our home. Unfortunately, Edie died that year, but she was comforted by the fact that we would survive financially, thanks in large part to the efforts of the wonderful people at the Actors Fund." Among those on hand to support--and applaud-- was Norman Lear, who reminisced with Burstyn on their first meeting in Israel 30 years ago. Another guest was Israel Consul Deputy for Information Gilad Milo. Lansky had been refused Israeli citizenship and forced to return to the U.S. (a decision agreed to by today's Consulate, which noted the play honestly represents what happened in 1973 just before the five-day war). "Lansky" has its eyes on Off B'way, and negotiations are ongoing with the Actors Temple, says Burstyn, who also produces with Dan Israely. Joe Bologna, who wrote "Lansky" with Richard Krevolin, tells me they will adjust for the bigger move after the play winds at the Odyssey, Sept.9. Meanwhile Bologna and wife Renee Taylor re-play "If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You," Sept. 7-8-9 at the Sun Coast in Vegas and will next tour, joined by Lainie Kazan, in another of his laffers, "Bermuda Ave. Triangle." Bologna, philosophically says, "We (he and Renee) don't have to wait for the phone to ring. We create our own work. We're fortunate. Every night, when the curtain goes up, we say, 'Thank you, God'--and, no matter what has gone on backstage-- we're in love again." Monday, August 20, 2007
  • "Mike Burstyn, an acclaimed song and dance man, American/Israeli performer both on and off Broadway, is phenomenal in his portrayal of G." www.examiner.com "Mike Burstyn plays G and does a tremendous job. Burstyn is an amazing actor , his moments are carefully constructed, and there is a delightful simplicity to his work, and I’ve already mentioned his great voice, but I’ll say it again, great voice! I am not familiar with Mike Burstyn, or his career, but there was a point in the show when he spoke emphatically as God. I heard his voice, I felt it in my chest cavity. It was an inspired voice and one that nearly lifted me from my seat. Instead I raised my eyes from my notepad and took note of the actor before me. Surely, I have missed something. And I soon realized that I needed to catch up on my knowledge of internationally acclaimed American/Israeli actors." joestraw9.blogspot.com/ "Mike Burstyn brings just the right amount of menace, anger, fear and humanity to the role, sharing an Almighty who gives real meaning to man being created in his own image. God cries, yes he does, and Burstyn makes every emotion and swift flick of his powerful hand seem to come from deep within his soul, heartfelt and honest to the core." BroadwayWorld.com "God is splendidly played by Burstyn." Beverly Hills Courier "Mike Burstyn fitted the role of G exceptionally well." www.lasplash.com LINKS TO REVIEWS: http://www.joestraw9.blogspot.com/ http://www.examiner.com/review/o-my-god-brings-out-the-believer-us http://peoplesworld.org/in-new-play-god-comes-to-earth-finds-his-humanity/ http://www.broadwayworld.com/los-angeles/article/BWW-Reviews-O-MY-GOD-Offers-Insightful-Exam-of-Faith-Fear-Love-and-the-Power-of-the-Divine-20150501# http://www.jewishjournal.com/david_suissa/article/god_comes_to_picofor_therapy http://www.lasplash.com/publish/Los_Angeles_Entertainment_109/o-my-god-theatre-review-does-god-need-therapy_printer.php ITALIAN PRODUCTION: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/news/detail/articolo/jewish-theatre-10770/
  • by Jerusalem Post With a career that’s spanned worlds as varied as Yiddish song and Broadway musical comedy, Mike Burstyn is as busy as ever. Mike Burstyn. (photo credit: Courtesy) It feels like Mike Burstyn has always been around. While the entertainment business, by definition, lends itself to illusion and the cultivation of non-realistic personas, in real life Burstyn is as effervescent and larger than life as the many delightful screen and stage characters he has portrayed over the past six decades. Los Angeles resident Burstyn is currently in Israel to star in The Adventures of Hershele Ostropoler , alongside veteran Yiddish actor Yaakov Boddo. The comedy is based on the eponymous 18th-century prankster, and forms part of this year’s Yiddishpiel Festival. The work was written by Moshe Gershenson in the early 20th century, and Burstyn is suitably enthused about portraying the lovable and somewhat incorrigible character. “Hershele is someone who does all this foilishtik [pranks] to help the poor people in their shtetls,” says the 67-year-young actor. “In this version of the story he has to drive a rich miser mad.” Throughout his career Burstyn has combined acting with comedy, song and dance, to great effect, so it was only natural that the current version of Hershele Ostropoler should provide a vehicle for him to utilize as many of his polished skills as possible. “The original play was not a musical, but the songs were added by the director of the Folksbiene, the national Yiddish theater in New York,” Burstyn explains. “The songs are all original Yiddish songs from that era. This show is very sweet and very innocent.” The play will be performed all over the country until the end of the month and is directed by Eleanor Reissa, who was in charge of the Broadway production, also with Burstyn, a couple of years ago. The New York run was a critical and financial success, and eventually paved the way for the Yiddishpiel slot. “It got a very good review and Sassy Keshet, who is the new artistic director of the Yiddishpiel, contacted me after he heard about the success in New York, and that’s how this came about.” Burstyn got a very early start on his career path, at the tender age of seven. He grew up in an archetypal show biz family. His parents, Pesach Burstein and Lillian Lux, were acclaimed Yiddish-language actors who toured the United States and the world with various productions, such as Megilla of Itzik Manger and A Khasene in Shtetl (Wedding in a Shtetl). Burstyn, and twin sister Susan, were soon recruited into the family business and the parents and offspring lineup became known as the Four Burstyns. The twins were given the stage names of Motele and Zisele. “My parents schlepped us along to South America and put us in the show,” recalls Burstyn. “We were cute little things and my father knew a good thing when he saw it. We were like these wunderkinder, singing and dancing and performing. We were real crowd pullers.” The family was the subject of the awardwinning 1996 documentary The Komediant. So, Burstyn was destined to earn his keep as an entertainer. “Yes, I really had no choice,” he notes, although he briefly contemplated rebelling. “I thought of being an aeronautical engineer or a lawyer,” he continues. “I am an amateur lawyer. I played one on Broadway.” While the Burstyns did well in the States and elsewhere, this part of the world proved to be a harder nut to crack, although that was no reflection on the quality of entertainment the family team offered Israeli audiences. “We came here in 1954 and worked here for about a year and a half, but eventually we had to leave,” Burstyn recalls. “In those days, the establishment was officially against the Yiddish language. There was a special entertainment tax on productions in foreign languages, and Yiddish was considered a foreign language. There was a fear that Yiddish might take over as the national language.” Burstyn has tangible evidence of the official hard-line take. “I have a document from the Ministry of the Interior, from 1955, with a request from a local producer to put on a Yiddish musical theater show,” Burstyn continues. This wasn’t any old show. “It was Kuni Lemel, of all things.” The 1966 Israeli film version of the play starred Burstyn and established him as a top actor in this country, as well as bringing him the Israeli Oscar. “The producer asked to put on a show of Kuni Lemel in Yiddish. The answer [from the Ministry of the Interior] says that it is forbidden for a local company to perform in Yiddish, and a copy was sent to the Israeli Police headquarters. In other words, it was a criminal offense to perform in Yiddish in Israel at the time.” Thankfully, things have moved on and the Yiddishpiel Festival is doing its bit to keep the language alive and kicking here. Burstyn’s meteoric rise to fame here, in the wake of Kuni Lemel, was also the source of some familial anguish. “I became really hot in Israel after that,” says the actor. “I was 20 years old and I had broken away from the family team. We weren’t just a family, we were also business partners, but I saw that I’d have no future if I stayed only in Yiddish theater.” Burstyn has spent quite a lot of his working hours in this country since that initial abortive attempt to make a go of it in Israel. He starred in two Kuni Lemel movies, as well as Oscar-nominated Israeli film Sallah Shabati, and The Dybbuk. He has acted in numerous Israeli theater productions while maintaining a busy career on Broadway, off-Broadway and on TV, in the States and Europe. He also speaks eight languages and looks much younger than his chronological age. “I am celebrating my 60th anniversary in show business,” Burstyn observes. “I haven’t stopped since I was 7.” He doesn’t even look like slowing down. The current run of The Adventures of Hershele Ostropoler opened last Wednesday at Beit Hahayal in Tel Aviv, to enthusiastic audiences, and there are dates lined up all over the country, including Jerusalem, Rehovot, Eilat and Kiryat Haim, through to October 31. For more info about The Adventures of Hershele Ostropoler and the Yiddishpiel Festival: (03) 525-4460 exts. 1-2.