Saturday, March 26, 2011

2 BEEF or Not 2 BEEF, That is the Question: (Really ? A Play About Schwartz's)------A Musical-no less

                      So a play about Scwartz's Deli,   seems odd to me ,hopefully it's able to cut the mustard, and tastefully done., maybe has some steamy juicy bits,that you can really sink your teeth into, & not leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth, that would really get them in a pickle.  ( yea I know what your thinking , 10,000 comedians out of work & I'm here stealing their schtick)..........hahahahah       


   No Really , a play about a smoked meat deli.........I think i'd rather have a smoked meat sandwich than spend the money on watching the antics of a store on the Main (albeit a famous ,storied shop) ,......but who knows it might be funny .They can only hope to get half of the good reviews & accolades that Scwartz's has gottenthrough it's Century long Run on the same stage 'The Main'


MONTREAL - “Where’s the beef?” No need to ask in Montreal. To the horror of vegetarians everywhere and the joy of cattle ranchers across North America, the consumption of smoked beef brisket is an integral part of Montreal culture. And Schwartz’s deli on St. Laurent Blvd. is, of course, the central rendezvous for smoked meat addicts, most of whom are ready to line up for an hour or more to get their medium-lean with mustard on rye accompanied by a dill pickle from heaven.

Been there, done that, many times. Although, to be frank, if blindfolded, I wouldn’t be able to tell a Schwartz’s sandwich from a reasonable facsimile. (Lightning strike me dead for blasphemy.) But that’s not the point.

Chowing down at Schwartz’s after a late-night Montreal Fringe Festival show means experiencing the theatrical equivalent of reality TV – only it’s interactive. Waiters at Schwartz’s tend to be conversationally inclined. The patrons, even more so. This is not a standoffish place.

First there was Schwartz’s restaurant, founded in 1928, then, in 2006, came Gazette columnist Bill Brownstein’s book, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story, recently released in an expanded edition by Véhicule Press. (True, a few other things happened in between but we’re cutting to the chase here.) Now thanks to a coalition of creative forces including playwright/composer/musicians George Bowser and Rick Blue, led by Centaur artistic director Roy Surette, Schwartz’s: The Musical is on its way.

Will this be the great Montreal musical we have long awaited? Or will it be just another rollicking Bowser and Blue show, with additional performers and an expensive faux Schwartz’s set by John C. Dinning?

Although Surette has directed musicals before, this is his first major one, put together on a budget of about $240,000, or about twice the cost of the average play at Centaur.

When he spoke to the Gazette this week, he sounded confident, even buoyant. But he admits that starting out with nothing but a local history book, a noted musical comedy duo, and a great sandwich, might have appeared foolhardy to some.

He quotes the first line of the play, “Smoked meat, can you write a play about it?” as an illustration of the quandary they all faced. Food-centric musicals are rare. (And seldom well done.)

Granted, Bowser and Blue, who have been performing together since 1978, have a considerable fan base, and a long list of musical hits: The 4 Anglos of the Apocalypse; The Paris of America; Mainly Montreal; Troubadours Through Time; and Blokes, plus Blokes Deux.

Still, even Rick Blue allows that he had qualms: “Billy (Browstein) had this crazy idea that Bowser and Blue should write a musical based on his book. I thought it was crazy. Everyone thought it was crazy.”

But the more they talked about it, the more encouragement they got from their friends. “The timing was right,” he recalled, during a recent Brownstein book launch held at Schwartz’s. “We were looking for something to do. Something to renew ourselves. So I put a proposal together and took it to Centaur.”

Once the pitch was accepted, the work of creating a musical began. That was about three years ago, he said. Their first step? “Well, we read the book.” Or rather reread it, Blue hastened to add. They quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to be the equivalent of adapting a novel like Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (last seen, as a musical, in Yiddish at the Segal Centre in 1997) for the stage.

“Bill’s book is written as a documentary. It’s just sort of a series of events,” Blue explained. “He tells the story, the history of Schwartz’s, which is interesting. But we had to find a way to present it on stage.”

As they searched for a plot to hang their musical on, the B & B team realized that, “There was this moment in 1998 when Madame Chartrand, who was the third owner, wanted to retire, and wanted to sell it,” Blue said. “Schwartz’s was kind of at risk because a Toronto group wanted to buy it and use the name in order to franchise it. That would have really destroyed the uniqueness of Schwartz’s. So I figured we should start with that.”

The next step, according to George Bowser, was to add the essentials. “Everybody agreed that you gotta have a girl, you gotta have a love interest, you gotta have some sort of jeopardy. So we kind of imposed a certain amount of structure on the chaos that happens every day at the restaurant. What Roy (Surette) has done, is to constantly find ways to engage minor characters and make them fill up the stage.”

The two main characters are a woman from Toronto who wants to buy the restaurant, played by former Les Misérables star Stephanie Martin, and a waiter, played by Vito DeFilippo, a local singer with an operatic background.

Some of the minor characters, like burlesque queen, Miss Sugarpuss, as herself, are likely to have a major effect, too.

Does she keep her clothes on? “Not entirely,’ Bowser replied.

Was Surette a tough director?

“It has been challenging,” Bowser said. “The bar was set a little higher.”

Now, after multiple rewrites, the 11th version of the script, with its 18 original songs within 23 scenes and 63 characters incarnated by 11 performers is good to go.

Or so everyone hopes.

What’s the genre? “There’s a little bit of satire that runs through, but ultimately it’s a big hearted musical,” Surette said. It is song-driven, rather than book heavy, he explained. And there are dance numbers, choreographed by Shane Snow. As for the music, “Like a lot of contemporary musicals it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got a little bit of Gospel, a little bit of rock ’n’ roll because that’s their background. Some of it’s a bit torchy, a bit bluesy. It’s quite a wide array.”

Brownstein was more succinct: “It sort of feels like Queen meets Alan Sherman (known for parody songs like Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah). It’s so rock-operatic.”

And it’s not remotely like anything Bowser and Blue have done before, he added. No anglo protest stuff. No potshots at Quebec.

“You wouldn’t know it was them if their names weren’t attached to it,” Brownstein continued. “But they’ll be on stage, playing in the background, or in supporting roles.”

Asked if the musical was helping sell his book, he said, “It’s a symbiotic relationship. The book also helps to sell the play.” And given that the book is now in its third printing in English and has sold well in French, it’s not just along for the ride. Nor is Schwartz’s. It’s a powerful brand.

The whole project began when Browstein was asked to write a story on the eatery for the Gazette at a time when its future seemed uncertain. Digging into the archives he found a striking lack of documentation. There was almost nothing on founder Reuben Schwartz. And when the second owner, Maurice Zbriger died, his obituary lauded his musical talents but made no mention of the restaurant. (Hy Diamond, is the current and fourth owner.) Intrigued, the intrepid reporter kept digging.

For Browstein, the thrill of it all has been to see a news story become a book, and now a musical, with a life of its own. “It’s quite a trip,” he said.

Schwartz’s: The Musical, by Rick Blue and George Bowser, begins previews Tuesday, opens Thursday, and continues through April 24 at Centaur Theatre, 453 St. François Xavier St. in Old Montreal. Tickets range from $32 (student) to $51. Call 514-288-3161 or visit

...I wonder if people will 'line up'for the play,like they have lined up at Scwartz's for many a deacade....??? Well we wish them all the Best, I guess Break a Leg as they say....& of course Mazel-Tof

                                                 ...Cheers !! , HF&RV


Guy Billard said...

i had a smoked meat at Schwatz a couple of years ago and despite all the publicity, I was disapointed. I prefer eating a smoked meat at Moise in Pte Claire or at La Belle Privince in DDO. A new Dunn's has opened in the West Island on Sources road also in DDO wich I will try out soon.

Les F said...

I don't think Scwartz's really professed to be the best,I have had better as well, it is the storied history of the building & the fact that it is still around. Dunn's was never my favourite either,overpriced generally & nothing spectacular,However there are many places around Montreal that have decent Smoked Meat, most of the restauarants are/were supplied (from what I understand) by Quebec Meat Products in Point St Charles ( I think it was Center st.) they sell all kinds of meat products & I have had some of their Smoke Meat sent out here to me , it was excelent. The one thing about Scwartz's is that they actually prepare their briskets right on the premises,you can see them right in the brine barrells .so in effect they are truly original and staying with the old methods. That is probably why you can get different tastes ,as much as they are done the same ,the final product can vary slightlyTheirs is more a 'history' type of thin so people can say I went to Scwartz's
We used to go to a place called Adam's Restaurant ,where their smoke meat was as good as any I have had. They used to let us kids sit in the restaurant all night occupying a booth, and sharing fries or a smoke meat sandwich.........
Guy I believe there is a place out on the west island called Pete's Smoke Meat, & it is supposed to be good, Dunns (& Scwartz's for that mateer) tried branching out in the past,they even tried Toronto,I think both have since closed.
Cheers !!......>.................................> ...................HF&RV

Les F said...

Quebec Smoked Meat Products Co

1889 Centre, Montréal, QC H3K 1J1

They will slice it exactly as you wish........Cheers HF&RV

Les F said...

Schwartz's has their own website, Why , I don't know,they don't need to advertise. In a way for Ex-Montrealer's I suppose thinking of smoke meat,does bring to mind Scwartz's .it is sort of a 'taste of home' more than a taste of smoke meat. I cannot imagine hearing ina conversation, I was in Montreal the other day & went to ?????? Pete's ,...... Lester's ...........etc etc
I could however understand some saying Dunn's , Scwartz's or up until last year Ben's (even though Ben's in my opinion was not that good), at least the last time I was their 'late night;' it was below average. Cheers !! HF&RV
What has all this got to do with a Musical ? F^%&*D if I know........hahahahaha but I guess it's just our 'song & dance '

Ken McLaughlin said...

Gregory's on Wellington was known for their smoked meat (and for drinking 11 beers before you actually ate it).

Les F said...

Wow I totally forgot about Gregory's(& smoked meat was right on the sign) ,.when I was a kid & still had to go to church My mother used to take us to Gregory's for a treat ( bribe for going to church) that's where I would have anything strawberry, Strawberry Milkshake, Strawberry Shortcake, or Strawberry Sundae,......Strawberries were my favourite ,..however ,Never, did you have 2 of anything , so it took at least 3 trips to sample the shake ,cake or icecream..... you got one treat & that was it........hahahaha Then I clued in to just 'going to church' myself ...which is code for not going to church with my friends,& keeping the collection plate money ,which usually didn't make it past the candy store...........hahahahaha
Thanks for the reminder of Gregory's...............Cheers !! HF&RV

Guy Billard said...

I forgot to mention Chenoys but they lost a lot of business to the competition in the past few years. They still have a restaurant on St John Boulevard in the West Island.

robert jomphe said...

There is a Dunn's also on Metcalfe between St-Catherine and Sunlife. The south shore also has a Chenoy's at Taschereau and Lapiniere. There is now two Reuben's on St-Catherine one near peel and one near McGill college. The other day when I turned at Jean-Talon coming off the decarie expressway I saw a Dunn`s there and since Labelle Province is everywhere we don`t have to go searching too much. It`s as easy to find smoked meat here as fish & chips in Victoria.

Les F said...

Yes that is one of Montreal's claims to fame,the food was always easy to find,Many Mom & Pop run places had some of the best food at reasoanble price ,if not dead cheap. That is one of the things that I think most ex-montrealers miss the most ...the food.
There are good restaurants evrywhere,but it's just not like Montreal.
....Cheers !! HF&RV

Les F said...

a comparison to Scwartz's from Katz's in NYC (I like both myself,as NYC is just fun to even be in)
Something I didn't know,or ever would think to want to know,is that Katz's Restaurant was where they filmed the orgasm scene from "When Harry Met Sally".....that is a funny scene,.I love the older woman in the background who says to the waitress,just as Meg Ryan finishes her fake O ,...the woman says "I'll Have What She's Having"................hahahahaha
anyway this first vid is two people talking about the comparison btwn Montreal (smoke meat) & New York's ( Pastrami ,corned beef).....

.......and here is the restaurant scene:

........Cheers !! ........HF&RV

Les F said...

Ok just for equal billing ( and a long way from the Musical,.but there's music in this vid. so there's the 'Connection')
............Chenoy's...............(I'd sure like to have that knife)

......Cheers !! HF&RV

Les F said...

Ok Dunn's gets a shot too,........might as well plug every joint in Montreal....

..............Cheers !! HF&RV

Les F said...

Ok now Lester's .......spiel on their Smoked Meat. plus you can have it sent to your home ,if you like.

personally I get it the old fashion way,.have a friend send it out. Cheers !! HF&RV

Les F said...

Well I would give this place a try ,for sure, if you like Blues, this place seems like it would be fun....
You can skip the intro & checkout their complete website,but I like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band
playing on the intro..................
Smoke Meat Pete, on Ile Perot, & I bet it would be fun ,go for a bite, have a brew, kick back & listen to some Blues,..............................................Cheers !! HF&RV