"Burstyn is the whole show...Mike Burstyn's Jolson is very good. Especially when singing, Burstyn suggests something of Jolson's sociopathic intensity. He sounds eerily like Jolson on up-tempo rousers ('Toot, Toot, Tootsie!') as well as on April showers of sentimentality ('My Mammy')...'Jolson' comes to life only when Burstyn gets in touch with his inner Jolie, flashes that beacon of enamel and goes in for the kill."
Michael Phillips, Los Angeles Times
HOLLYWOOD REPORTER 10/28/99
"Fortunately for this national touring production making a short stop in Pasadena, Mike Burstyn has the Jolson voice and persona down pat. Although physically no Jolson clone - more flesh, lots more hair - when he sings, Burstyn captures that essential Jolson quality of convincing an audience that he's giving you all he's got, and then some. He also presents us with that unique Jolson blend of ego, brashness, unabashed sentimentality and the supreme confidence in his talent to make it all hang together...The show ends with a Radio City concert that allows Burstyn to pull out all the stops with 'Swanee,' 'Sonny Boy,' 'Around A Quarter To Nine' and 'Carolina In The Morning.' And, oh yes, 'My Mammy,' which remains a heartbreaker with a voice like Burstyn's behind it."
Jay Reiner, The Hollywood Reporter
"Mike Burstyn tackles the role with gusto and seems to enjoy the limelight every bit as much as the character he plays...he sounds uncannily like the real thing."
Robert Trussell, The Kansas City Star
"As played by Mike Burstyn in this lavish and intelligent musical, that brash bulldozer (Jolson) pushed aside everyone and everything on his way to the top. Compact, with a voice like a fire siren, Burstyn grabs your attention with his first, bellowing notes and holds your interest through to the finale."
Joanne Milani, The Tampa Tribune
"A musical play of substance demands a lead actor who can shoulder the weight, and Burstyn can...the performance Burstyn gives is highly professional. Although small in stature, Burstyn paints Jolson in broad strokes. His stride and speaking voice are big; the singing voice comes across as bigger still. He gives the Jolson voice a nasal quality without doing an imitation. Burstyn's characterisation leaves room for detail. There's a lot that's reminiscent of old still photographs and film footage, including the frozen smile, wide eyes and fingers outstretched. Emotionally, Burstyn conveys that Jolson was driven to be the one out front yet was lonely for company."
Whitney Smith, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis
"You have to say this for Mike Burstyn, the high-octane star of 'Jolson: The Musical' - the man knows how to hold a stage...an absolutely punishing workload for (Jolson's) eponymous star...Burstyn seems to have gone to great lengths to create an authentic evocation of the man often cited as the greatest entertainer this century has ever produced."
Steve Metcalf, The Hartford Courant
"The reports of Al Jolson's demise have been greatly exaggerated. He lives in the cock-of-the-walk performance of Mike Burstyn in "Jolson"...The songs pour from Burstyn, who clearly knows Jolson's voice and temperament. Burstyn plays the crowd with all the confidence of the original and revels in his ability and his desire to perform. He conveys Jolson's brashness and self-absorption, but he also peels off the layers to reveal a tender and bruised heart. A wonderful performance."
Paul Lamar, The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.
"A fireball performer...Burstyn has all but cloned Jolson's distinctive baritone with it's back-of-the-throat resonance. Lots of impersonators have done this over the years, but few of them can sustain it, as Burstyn can, for almost three hours and more than a dozen solos."
Perry Stewart, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
"It takes a star to play a star...Mike Burstyn radiates the kind of presence it takes to make Jolson's leading role believable. He also sings with power in an uncanny recreation of the idiosyncratic Jolson style, never making it sound like a trick."
Lawson Taitte, The Dallas Morning News
"Burstyn inhabits his subject completely, from the vocal delivery - the downturned corners of the mouth, cut-through-everything nasal timbre, head-shaking vibrato - to the way he insinuates himself into the hearts of his audience. For one night, the Fox Theatre is Broadway's Wintergarden, circa 1920."
Susan Elliott, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
How I love ya! Mike Burstyn makes going down the Swanee a joy in Jolson: A Spectacular Musical. By Erin Hart, Sidewalk July 16, 1999
Could you ask for a better star turn? In addition to the ideal theatrical heritage (his parents were stars in the Yiddish theater and Jolson contemporaries), Mike Burstyn has the moves, the mouth and above all, the chutzpah, to play the hard-working genius who was Al Jolson.
If Mike Burstyn isn't extremely well known in the United States, it's only because he spends so much time elsewhere (Holland and Israel, to be exact). He's an old-time Broadway pro, cast from a mold that's rare these days, but never goes out of style. He slips into the role as though it were a custom-made shoe, reveling in this portrayal, painting Jolson's brash exterior and squishy, mammy-loving center.
Above all, it's Burstyn in the title role who makes this show a winner.
"Watch me, I'm a wow," he says, as Jolson.
And it's true."
"Mike Burstyn is a commanding presence in the title role...he's got Jolson's most familiar mannerisms down cold, and his singing voice is a dead ringer."
Dominic P. Papatola, Saint Paul Pioneer Press
"Jolson was a high-octane guy and Mike Burstyn portrays him at full rev...Burstyn has Jolson's voice down pat."
Mike Steele, Saint Paul Star Tribune
"Mike Burstyn is the main reason to see this show. It doesn't happen very often that an actor walks down the isle of a theatre for his first entrance and gets thunderous applause long before he even opens his mouth to talk or sing. But word of mouth has been so great for Burstyn, everyone in the audience knew they were about to see someone special grace the Shubert stage. And they were right. This actor gives a superb performance as Al Jolson. SUPERB. Given Burstyn's years in the theatre (he started out as a kid in Yiddish theatre, working alongside his parents), plus his uncanny ability for getting an audience all lathered up, director Bill Castellino knew what he was doing when he cast this charismatic entertainer as Jolson. Mind you, not everyone could play this role. You need someone who can not only act and sing, but someone who is used to being out in front of an audience as a solo entertainer. That's what Jolson did best. He loved being out there alone, and Burstyn shares that connection with him. Though he's been starring in this musical since last October, Burstyn's affinity for the show hasn't diminished. Just watch him. He's so in touch with what he's doing, you never doubt for a moment that he is Al Jolson. He's got the look. He's got the moves. He's got the voice. He knows how to push an audience into overdrive. He's such a powerhouse, whenever he's not on stage, you count the minutes until he returns. Then there is the singing. In "Jolson" Burstyn sings 18 songs. His voice is rich, masterfully controlled and always full of surprise. Though you'd hardly call him a mimic, he sounds so much like Al Jolson, one would think he was lip-synching."
James V. Ruocco, Waterbury Republican-American
"Mike Burstyn without caricature not only captures his, (Jolson's), distinctive voice in over 25 songs, ranging from "Rock-A-Bye" to a heart-wrenching rendition of My Mammy," but projects Jolson's outgoing, pugnacious, generous, yet overbearing spirit, as if it were his own...I am sure Jolson would heartily approve of Mike Burstyn's memorable recreation in "Jolson" A Spectacular Musical."
Rosalind Friedman, WMNR Radio
"Tuesday night's opening of "Jolson" at the Shubert theatre in New Haven was a night of firsts. The first time this reviewer has ever seen such an interactive audience at the Shubert singing along with Jolson in the last 15 minutes of the show actually waiting to see what the next song was going to be...The first time I've ever heard gasps and murmurs of recognition as layers of the life of this man were revealed...The first time I've ever witnessed so convincing an imitation both physically and vocally of a character...Mike Burstyn in the title role breathes life into Al Jolson, billed as The World's Greatest Entertainer."
Trish Torello, WATR Radio
"Burstyn triumphs in an unusually demanding part - demanding because of it's sheer length and because of it's seemingly unending sequence of big solos and the extraordinary vocal attack and stamina they require. He captures and sustains Jolson's voice, and he has an apparently inexhaustible supply of high-octane energy."
Dennis Cashman, New Haven Register
"Burstyn performs with great energy throughout and is greeted by bursts of applause."
Malcolm Johnson, The Hartford Courant
"A heroic, outsize performance. Even Burstyn's mouth and jaw burst with the man's preternatural energy...The glory of the evening is the songs. Thank Jolson and Burstyn for that."
Chistopher Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Burstyn finally has a role as suited to his skills as Broadway's "Barnum" was. Burstyn has not only Jolson's inflections but also the distinctive diamond-cutting adenoidal sound Jolson yielded when he sang. He hammers home numbers with fists and splayed fingers, and fittingly, like Jolson's, his mouth can barely keep up with his flailing arms. Burstyn suggests the niceness Jolson managed to project, especially in the climactic concert."
Ed Blank, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
"Mike Burstyn is a magnificent performer! He's got that feral high energy Jolson had, the lips that start a musical phrase seductively and then snap suddenly into a manic smile as the eyes widen and the voice flattens out into the nasal bray of Mammy or California, Here I Come. His energy is so singular that there's no doubt at all he's portraying a man who held down the title of 'The World's Greatest Entertainer' for three decades."
Ray Conlogue, The Globe & Mail, Toronto
"Burstyn is terrific. Without a touch of makeup, the thick, downward curve of his mouth seems to conform to the shape of Jolson's, his eyes take on that slightly mad bug-eyed look, and his whole body evokes the smiling-crying, angry-child-in-a-grown-man's body that was the essence of Jolson's demeanor. When Burstyn sings-and you will be humming many of the show's nearly two dozen songs as you leave the theater-he conjures up the unique Jolson voice, as well. The rumbling vibrato is there, the sentimental street-fighter with the tough-guy sound, the Jewish minstrel with the mama's boy mentality...Jolson's exaggerated style comes through, without ever being overly caricatured. Watching the gifted actor, Mike Burstyn up there on stage I often found myself wishing that everything else around him would disappear and that he could just be left alone to do what he does with such uncanny verisimilitude and confidence."
Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times
"When Mike Burstyn takes the stage, it’s easy to believe Al Jolson has returned from the hereafter. Bold, brash, and bigger than life…the ‘World’s Greatest Entertainer’ again holds an audience captivated by sheer power of personality."
John Morgan, Detroit Free Press
"Since Mike Burstyn persuades us that he really is Jolson, we can discover the magic this great entertainer must have had. Burstyn woos all of us seated in the Allen, taking us into his confidence, getting us to sing along on ‘Carolina in the Morning,’ and giving us song after song in Jolson’s trademark nasal buzz, a cross between a French horn and a kazoo…The show is held together by Burstyn’s charismatic personality."
Marianne Evett, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"An exceptionally well-crafted performance from the very capable star Mike Burstyn, (who sounds uncannily like the real Asa Yoelson). The raspy and laudably unsentimental Burstyn is splendid in the closing concert sequence (and also in the earlier onstage numbers)."
Chris Jones, Variety
"Actor Mike Burstyn takes on the bravura role of the ‘Jazz Singer’ and he is dazzling. Burstyn has perfected Jolson’s voice, mannerisms and charisma. Like Jolson…he just needs to connect with his audience. And once he does, he never lets go."
Christine McBurney, In Theatre
"Before you can say ‘Toot Toot Tootsie,’ Burstyn has stolen the show…in his uncanny, go-for-broke replication of Jolson’s uniquely nasal singing…in his recklessly uninhibited rendering of the star’s arrogance and ego. The Al Jolson of Burstyn’s creation is a walking, talking, breathing ego; even his acts of generosity are grand performances. But there’s more to him than that: there’s an almost pathalogical need to please, a pathetic craving for love and approval that, coupled with a sentimental streak of preternatural proportions, made both his work and his life a total and unremitting revelation of self. Burstyn gets all this, too."
Clifford A. Ridley, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Burstyn is Jolson, including his alter-ego’s famous whistling routine, and he carries the show to a triumphant foot-stomping, sing-along finale. It’s all there – the moon eyes, the swagger, the stance, the outstretched arms and the splayed hands – and, of course, Al Jolson’s inimitable voice, in Mike Burstyn’s portrayal of the legendary singer. The charismatic Burstyn dominates the show. He easily seduces listeners in this homage to ‘The World’s Greatest Entertainer.’"
Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News
"Mike Burstyn has Al Jolson down pat. If you know about Al Jolson and his marvelous singing style and you plan to attend ‘Jolson: The Musical’, you’ll likely find yourself closing your eyes while Mike Burstyn is singing. Is it the imagination, or does Burstyn have the Jolson style down cold; the wonderful resonance of the middle range; the full vowel diction that seems to come from the back of the throat, the effortless rhythmic roll of those words? No imagination, Burstyn has all the great qualities of the Jolson delivery, plus the self-confident swagger. Burstyn takes command from his first number, ‘I’m Sitting on Top of the World’, and keeps things lively all through the familiar Jolson repertoire, ‘Rock-a-Bye Your Baby,’ ‘Toot-Toot-Tootsie,’ ‘Baby Face.’ One of the Jolson songs is ‘Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.’ Let Burstyn sing and the audience is too."
Dave Nicolette, The Grand Rapids Press
"The show succeeds because of Mike Burstyn. Mr. Burstyn envelops Al Jolson the singer, the pure entertainer. He alone makes you understand why Jolson and his songs were the rage for decades during the early part of this century. Those who are familiar with the voice and the songs, and who isn’t, would swear they are seeing and hearing the real Al Jolson. Mr. Burstyn is so convincing and so appealing you want him to sing all night. Maybe you won’t want to run out and buy old recordings of ‘Toot-Toot-Tootsie Goodbye’ but you can’t help but love it when Mike Burstyn does Al Jolson right before your eyes…the wonderful…the amazing Mike Burstyn."
Herb Hammer, The Times, Cleveland
"Burstyn has a lot of charisma as Jolson!"
Terry Byrne, Boston Herald
"As played by Mike Burstyn, ‘Jolie’ comes across as an egocentric genius, a man with a voice and a manner that thrilled audiences, and he knew it. Burstyn has it down pat."
Marion Garmel, The Indianapolis News
"The new stage show is a musical memoir and as such works because of Mike Burstyn in the title role. He reaches deep within the character to reveal the frightened little boy that Jolson kept hidden beneath layers of brashness and bravado. Burstyn sounded like Jolson, but he wasn’t impersonating the legendary entertainer. He was recreating in his character’s own style the music Jolson made famous in the 1920s and ‘30s. Jolson was bigger than life in his heyday, the highest-paid performer on Broadway and an egocentric man not always liked by his colleagues. Burstyn conveys such a persona, playful and in charge in front of an audience, but mean, thoughtless, tender, frightened off stage."
Russ Musarra, The Beacon Journal, Cleveland
"It’s likely Jolson would be pleased with the way Mike Burstyn portrays him…(he) beautifully captures Jolson’s style and mannerisms. From the down-on-one-knee, poignant rendition of ‘My Mammy’ to the hands-up-fingers-spread gesture and vibrant skip step enlivening his 'Toot-Toot-Tootsie,’ Burstyn makes it happen. His voice has the same resonant, rugged quality of the legendary entertainer…Burstyn ably portrays his swagger and bravado backstage and gives a vivid picture of how the entertainer turned those traits into exhilarating performances on stage. In the last scene Burstyn bursts out with a grand finale that makes you appreciate just how terrific Jolson was…The show is a classy production, and Burstyn’s talents bring Jolson’s brilliance front and center."
Debbie Forman, Cap Cod Times
"Burstyn looks, acts, and sings like Jolson. The show’s strongest moments are when he prances onto the stage, stretches out his arms and starts to sing. With the talented, charismatic Mike Burstyn in the title role, you get the eerie feeling that the man considered by many to be ‘the world’s greatest entertainer’ is looking down and giving his blessing…the audience craves more Jolson tunes. With Burstyn performing, they could have done a solo show and the audience would have loved it. Jolson’s spirit fills the place…It’s great entertainment."
Nancy Tuttle, Boston Sun
"…the production boasts in Mike Burstyn a singer who sounds like Jolson and puts the performer’s songs across with a fine mix of emotion and showmanship—even the requisite knee slapping and eye rolling…these are great songs, and ‘Jolson’ is at its best when Burstyn is slamming them home."
Carolyn Clay, The Boston Phoenix
"’Jolson: The Musical’ is not a one-man show. But one man is the reason you might not want to miss it…make that one man and his performance of the music made famous by Al Jolson. With Mike Burstyn singing all of the Jolson standards, you can’t go wrong with this Jolson story…a journey through several decades of American popular music and what a satisfying tour it is. Especially since your guide is the multitalented Burstyn…what this gifted star of international musical theatre gives the audience is a performance, not an imitation. But if you’ve ever wanted the opportunity to see what a Jolson concert was like, ‘Jolson: The Musical’ gives you that chance…See Burstyn as Jolson and appreciate this amazing performance."
Sharon Johnson, The Patriot-News
"Mike Burstyn delivers an entertaining impersonation of Jolson and especially of his distinctive vocal style."