Jolson

Previewed 23 October 1995, Opened 26 October 1995, Closed 22 March 1997 Victoria Palace Theatre in London.

Francis Essex and Rob Bettinson's new musical Jolson in London starring Brian Conley

Al Jolson was The Greatest Entertainer the World had ever seen! Jolson the Musical, shows the most exciting part of life... at the top of his career as Broadway's Biggest Star... meeting the young Ruby Keeler whom he marries... filming the Jazz Singer... becoming a Legend in the World's first talking Movie! The War changed his life when he wanted to entertain every member of the Armed forces... His sensational life story on film in The Jolson Story... 'Let him sing and he's happy!'... A big company of 40 take us back to the most Glamorous Showbiz era of them all.

The cast features Brian Conley as 'Al Jolson' with Sally Ann Triplett as 'Ruby Keeler' and John Bennett as 'Louis Epstein'. Allan Stewart played the role of 'Al Jolson' on Monday evenings up to 22 July 1996, for all performances from Monday 29 July to Saturday 28 September 1996, and on Thursday matinees from Thursday 3 October 1996. Directed by Rob Bettinson with choreography by Tudor Davies, designs by Robert Jones, lighting by Jenny Cane and sound by Rick Price. Rob Bettinson's West End credits include Leonardo the Musical at the Strand Theatre in 1993.

"There's a wonderful scene of vintage kitsch in this £2 million musical when the leading lady majestically descends from the flies on the back of a golden American eagle. In the role of Al Jolson, Brian Conley has much the same theatrical impact as that great winged predator. When he arrives, the ego has landed. When he's off-stage, the evening frankly drags... Conley works the audience brilliantly, so much so that he seems to have strayed in from another show. The creators of West End hit Buddy are behind this. Yet instead of a glorified concert, their bland, plodding attempts at biography result in little more than a necrophilia’s night out. And though Robert Jones's Art Deco settings are effective, Tudor Davies's choreography unaccountably ignores Jolson's — and Conley's — own dancing abilities. Conley has captured superbly that authentic Jolsonian rasp for such standards as Swanee, Sonny Boy and, of course, the maudlin My Mammy... Never do we get to know Jolson, It's a pity. Conley richly deserved his standing ovation; but, given better material, he could have been terrific." The Daily Express

"There is a rather optimistic little note in the programme for Jolson which politely requests patrons seated in the circle and balcony to refrain from dancing in the gangways and from heavy foot stamping. Regrettably, there is very little about this amiable bio-musical that is liable to bring the house down. A little gentle tap dancing, a host of Jolson favourites, and some sumptuous sets keep the nostalgia levels high and the excitement levels dangerously low. As Jolson, the self-styled 'world's greatest entertainer', Brian Conley swaps Me and My Girl for me and my ego. Jolson may have had the voice of a heavenly choir, but he had the temperament of a Roman emperor. Jolson begins with the man at the height of his fame in the 1920s, when he committed daylight robbery by filching a song from an up-and-coming girl trio. It sees him through a career decline in the 1940s when he desperately but unsuccessfully tried to steal the limelight from his then wife, the dancer and movie star Ruby Keeler, and concludes with a re-creation of the famous Radio City comeback concert which followed the release of the film, The Al Jolson Story... Francis Essex and Rob Bettinson's book does not flinch from showing the more monstrous side of Jolson's personality, and there's some sharp dialogue, but in the end it knows it is an irrelevance and fades away into a medley of Jolson's hits from Swanee and Baby Face to Give My Regards To Broadway and Mammy. What lends the piece most of its interest is the re-creation of the vaudeville-style performance in which the blacked-up Jolson made his name as Gus the butler... The second half, which begins with an evening-gowned Ruby being lowered on a golden eagle to announce the outbreak of the second world war, has rather more oomph than the lacklustre first half, not least because Conley finds his voice, stops impersonating, and starts acting. Even so, he is outshone by Sally Ann Triplett as Ruby Keeler whose sexy rendition of You Made Me Love You is the evening's show stopper." The Guardian

"If proof were needed that Brian Conley is one of Britain's most talented up-and-coming stars, then watch his portrayal of showbiz legend Al Jolson. Truly, you ain't seen nothing yet. Conley's charm, humour and downright energy make this evening at London's Victoria Palace one to remember... Conley perfectly suggests the demons which plagued Jolson throughout his turbulent life, yet makes you love him just the same. A temptation to give Jolson the rose-tinted treatment has, thankfully, been resisted. Conley is not afraid to let you know that Mr Jolson was also Mr Big-Pain-In-The-Behind at times. Mammy, Rock-A-Bye Your Baby and Swanee are all tunes audiences of all ages will know. But it's Conley who shines through - admittedly, at times, a little too brightly - as the star of the evening." The Daily Mirror

Jolson in London at the Victoria Palace Theatre previewed from 23 October 1995, opened on 26 October 1995 and closed on 22 March 1997