Conley is superb in the role and by the end of the show you almost believe he is Al Jolson. With a good supporting cast and excellent sets, this is a very professional production. It should run for quite a while with packed houses.
If you are looking for a fun filled evening, without too much to think about, then Jolson may be just the show you are looking for. The production starts in the 1920s, when the legendary Al Jolson is already established as a major star on Broadway, and it tracks his life through its ups and downs, and stormy relationships, right through to his death in 1950. Francis Essex and Rob Bettinson who wrote the book, have got it absolutely right. The pace is fast, and it is designed to accommodate as many of Jolsons numbers as possible, and that after all is what the majority have come for. Comedy is plentiful, and for me the evening completely flew by.
Allan Stewart as Jolson commands the performance from his first entrance. The show obviously centres around him, he is in practically every scene, and fronts most of the numbers, but this is not the reason. He has an energy supply that would put the National Grid to shame, is a powerful and emotional vocalist, not to mention an excellent impersonator, He has obviously worked hard on the role, and his confidence of performance allows you to forget once in a while that it is not the real the real Al you are watching.
The entire cast is very strong and exceptionally versatile . Many double as the musicians, and incidental characters . There were no weak links and everyone worked well together, and best of all appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience.. Sally Ann Triplett is sensational as Ruby Keeler, she has a beautiful voice, acts well, and looks great. John Bennett was excellent as Jolsons long suffering agent, Louis Epstein. Craig Stevenson was competent as Harry Akst as well as on stage pianist. I also enjoyed Julie Armstrong, Alison Carter and Helen Mcnee as the Rooney Sisters.
Robert Jones set was spectacular, notably Jolsons apartment, and Radio City Music Hall. Scene changes were executed swiftly and contributed to the performance running so smoothly. Tudor Davies choreography was slick and Jenny Canes lighting captured the mood perfectly.
And last but by no means least, thanks to the likes of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Harry Warren for providing the kind of music that makes this show a real hit.
(Jason L Belne)
Just came back from a short trip to London. And you have seen nothinyet if you havent seen JOLSON. It plays in the Victoria Palace to a very good capacity - about 95 % when I saw the two matinees on Wednesday and Saturday.
Brian Conley as Al Jolson is a wow who holds the audience in his grip for the whole evening. His raspy voice is VERY reminiscent of Jolsons. Apart from the Olivier-nominated Conley, there is a very strong supporting cast, especially John Bennett (also Olivier-nominated) as the long-suffering agent Louis Epstein and Sally Ann Triplett as Ruby Keeler (what a voice!).
The story covers Jolsons life from his early stage roles till the "Jazz Singer" (Act 1) and his RSO-tours to his death in 1950. Except for an unsufferable scene where he helps a little black boy to a start in show biz, Conley shows the dark side of JOLSON all thru the show, belittling co-actors, his first wife Henrietta and his agent. So we DO have a very good book apart from all the Jolson-songs like Baby Face, Swanee, Let Me Sing and Im Happy, April Showers and the inevitable My Mammy and Sonny Boy.
Jolson-purists may critize some of the liberties the writers took (Ruby Keeler is made a singer instead of a dancer and she stays close to Jolson even after their divorce), but Conleys stage-presence and the cocky way he delivers the songs should make everyone happy.
A must-see - not only for Jolson-fans!