Delightful Dreykop: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: The Musical

Par Alan Hustak le 12 juin 2015

Comparisons are odious. Books are not movies. Movies are not stage plays and Broadway musicals are something else altogether.   The Segal Centre’s production The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the   musical, which had its run extended into July even before it opened,  stands on its own as a  fearless,  reimagined  version of Richler’s classic novel.  Even Richler’s widow, Florence and eldest son, Daniel who were at  the opening approved. But it is a show with limitations, not so much a musical as a play with music.  You keep waiting for a signature show tune, an anthem to hum as you leave the theatre, but there isn’t one. Eight songs into the first act, a song and dance routine,  Art and Commerce, encapsulates the spirit of the evening and finally kick starts the show.  With that number  librettist David Spencer thumbs his nose at  purists in the audience who might object to the touch of schmaltz that was added to transform Richler’s novel to the stage.  The message in the tune  is clear:  Art is uncompromised vision; but mounted and marketed properly, you can give audiences what they want to hear. Composer Alan Menken, whose achievements include Beauty and the Beast and Newsies, has come up with a unobtrusive  musical score that carries the plot along but fails to stir the emotions. 

Duddyyyyy.jpgIn this version  Duddy’s father, Max, (George Masswohl) chats up the audience and tells us the story about his son’s  chequered past.  Yes, Duddy was a scheming little bastard.  But now that he has presumably married Yvette and built his Kravitzville in the  Laurentians  he’s apparently put aside his childish ways.  What we get is a sympathetic portrait of a not- so- nice Jewish boy who was   “born with a rusty spoon in his mouth,”  which helps to explain why he had to cheat  to get what he wanted  out of life.  

In spite of the limitations, Ken James Stewart in the title role is a marvel.  Duddy Kravitz is a complex, challenging part to pull off.  From the moment Stewart appears at Wilensky’s,  the neighbourhood deli,  he seizes the spotlight and never lets go.  He gives us  a  charismatic  dreykop  with a disarming grin -   a  shady but sweet faced swindler who, in the  massaged ending  is understandably forgiven  by the friends  he betrays simply because  “someone has to.” 

The production is blessed with a superb supporting cast; the superior performances come from Marie Pierre de Brienne as Yvette, Duddy’s French-Canadian love interest, David Coomber as  Virgil, the   handicapped partner Duddy betrays,  Michael Rudder as the  sinister rackateer Jerry DIngleman and Kristian Truelsen as the blacklisted film-maker Peter John Friar.  The evening’s biggest laugh comes when his over the top documentary of a Bar Mitzvah is screened. 

Designer Michael Eagan’s costumes are fine  but his stylized backdrop  of Richler’s  St. Urbain Street, a once thriving Jewish Ghetto,  is all wrong -  it is a streetscape more out  Manchester than Montreal. 

Richler’s characters are rooted in a specific place,  Duddy is a homegrown musical efficiently directed by Austin Pendelton.    The Segal’s production is as entertaining a Duddy as its gets. That said, whether it will move audiences outside the  city  to the same degree as it does at the Segal  remains to be seen.

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