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 www.centaurtheatre.com...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