Closed on the road (1979)

Trivia & History

Producer Jeff Britton told the New York Times that the first-act curtain "is so good you will not believe it. It is the most tremendous first-act curtain in the history of Broadway theatre."

Scheduled to open on Broadway on May 2, 1979. Theatre unknown.

The Northstage Theatre, where Joley premiered, was built in 1927 as a vaudeville house and Al Jolson was on its first bill. It was converted to a cinema and later to a dinner theatre.

Estimated budget was $800,000, however some felt that it was undercapitalized.

The show closed because producer Jeff Britton was not able to attract additional investors to put up the money that would allow it to move to Broadway. Investors were invited to see the show at Northstage but they didn't like what they saw.

Director Jay Harnick left the production about a week after the opening. The reasons are unclear. He told the New York Times that his reasons were "no concept" and "no money". There were also rumors of Harnick's dismissal.

Jeff Britton leased the rights of the show to the Bob Funking and William Stutler (who ran the Northstate Theatre Restaurant), knowing that trying out the show on Long Island rather than Philadelphia or Boston would be less expensive.

The producers of the Northstage sued over contractual obligations with Northstage asserting that Jeff Britton owed them money to cover operating losses. Britton questioned the figures and had made several counterclaims.

Author and lyricist Herb Hartig insisted at the time that Jeff Britton owed him money. His contract allowed approval of director and all changes in the production. But when show doctors were brought in to help, he wasn't consulted.

The project was officially dead in July 1979 when Britton's option to produce Hartig's script expired. At that time, Britton only owned the physical production (which were impounded by the Northstage producers when Britton refused to pay them).

There was much dispute backstage. One dispute was about the use of Jolson's brother, Harry, as narrator when many in the production felt that Jolson should narrate his own story.

Hartig was reluctant to make changes (although he later claimed otherwise). During the Glen Cove run, only minor cuts were made in a show that clearly needed a complete overhaul. Jeff Britton told the New York Times that Hartig's response to suggested changes was, "It's my show; I need a director to realize it."

Star Larry Kert called the show "patchwork – full of wonderful colors, but what one needed was a new quilt." Kert also referred to Joley as "Hartig's child. But the child is not normal and must be taken to a doctor."

Nicholas Dante (who co-wrote A Chorus Line) wrote another version of Jolson's life for Larry Kert to star. The working title was Al Jolson Tonight. It was rumored for a fall 1979 Broadway opening produced by Jeff Britton with Michael Shawn as director/choreographer.

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