Fundamentally, all writing is about the same thing; it's about dying, about the brief flicker of time we have here, and the frustration that it creates- Mordecai Richler
Fans of famed Montreal author Mordecai Richler will be thrilled to see his popular novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz appearing live on stage in a musical number at the Segal Centre. The tale is being brought back to life by award winning composers Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, A Christmas Carol) and David Spencer (The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables). Prior to the stage, the novel was adapted into a 1974 film starring Richard Dreyfuss and Randy Quaid. Originally published in 1959, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz continues to be a must read novel, whether you're from Montreal or not. Those familiar with the novel (like myself) will notice the differences and similarities between the play, film, and novel.
Set in the slums of rue Saint-Urbain, the story reflects on the life of Duddy Kravitz, a young Jewish boy who wants nothing more than to make a name for himself in the world and fulfill his grandfather's mantra of "a man without land is nobody". When opportunity knocks for Duddy to own a piece of vacant land, he'll stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means hurting those who love him most.
Above: Book cover of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Above: Movie poster for the 1974 film adaptation
Like the story itself, the play is appealing to all audiences and age groups. All 306 seats in the theatre were filled with eager spectators. The set design was well done and clearly thought through, from the local delicatessen to the rural suburb of Saint-Agathe, no detail was left out. Constant background changes occurred and it was very clear where the scenes were taking place in.
The actors used the space accordingly; our eyes were constantly following the movements from one end of the stage to the other. There were choreographed group numbers and acts with just one or two main actors saying (or singing) their dialogues. Some scenes included jumping and hurdling like a hyperactive child while others, had beautiful intimacy like a sweet kiss in the rain. The sound was perfect and the actors' voices projected well in the theatre. There were moments that made us laugh, scenes that touched our hearts, and times when we wanted to get up and be part of the action.
Above: Yvette (Marie Pierre De Brienne) and Duddy (Ken James Stewart)
Overall the actors were well cast. The title character of Duddy Kravitz was played exceptionally by Ken James Stewart (You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, Wanderlust). Stewart does a great job of portraying Duddy's innocence and naivety. He also shows Duddy's scheming side with a devious, weasel-like laugh similar to the one Richard Dreyfuss lets out in the film version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
Duddy's father Max is played by the very likeable George Masswhohl (Oh What A Lovely War, Fiddler on the Roof). Masswhohl also plays the role of narrator and often appears off to the side, recounting his son's story to the audience in a Shakespearean soliloquy like fashion. At times we found ourselves more focused on his actions than on the play itself. Adrian Marchuk (Marry Me a Little, The Light in the Piazza) plays Duddy's do-gooder brother Lenny. Unlike his dreamer brother, Lenny is a straight arrow but nonetheless, some touching scenes occur between the brothers as well as the entire Kravitz family. These scenes prove that no matter how different family members may be, they're still bonded together.
Above: Simcha (Howard Jerome) with his grandsom Duddy (Ken James Stewart)
Duddy's grandfather Simcha is portrayed by Howard Jerome (From Moses to Madonna, The Kabbalah Kabberet), another likeable character who can easily remind everyone of their own lovable grandfathers. The most unlikeable member of the Kravitz clan is Uncle Benjy, played by Victor A. Young (White Christmas, Hamlet). Like in the novel, as the story progresses we start to rethink about how we feel about Uncle Benjy.
Duddy's love interest Yvette, portrayed by Marie-Pierre De Brienne (La Melodie du Bonheur, Spring Awakening) does a believable job of playing a girl hopelessly in love with a somewhat shady guy. The chemistry between De Brienne and Stewart is authentic. Duddy's love for Yvette is more genuine in the play and he never refers to her as "his girl Friday" as he does several times in the novel. Another budding relationship is that between Duddy and his new American friend Virgil, played by David Coomber (Next to Normal, Men's Eyes). Coomber does a convincing job getting the audience to easily like and feel sympathy towards him, especially after an unthinkable act from Duddy.
Above: Yvette (Marie-Pierre De Brienne), Duddy (Ken James Stewart) and Virgil (David Coomber)
The not as likeable characters in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz were just as convincingly portrayed as the likable ones. Sam Rosenthal (The Chosen, Skin Flick) plays the wealthy Mr. Cohen, Michael Rudder (Godspell, The Heidi Chronicales) plays the phony Jerry "the Boy Wonder" Dingleman and Kristian Truelsen (Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Anne of Green Gables) plays the flighty Peter John Friar. Other cast members, Albane Chateau (The Little Match Girl), Gab Desmond (Forever Plaid), Julia Halfyard (Two Divas, One Spotlight) and Michael Daniel Murphy (Lies My Father Told Me) played multiple characters.
Overall I enjoyed the play, the cast was excellent and the musical numbers enchanting; however the three-hour performance felt long at times and the sequences were repetitive. There is a section where they show a Bar Mitzvah scene from the movie adaptation of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz involving a graphic circumcision. They should perhaps warn people of this ahead of time. I had seen this scene but my companion and other audience members hadn't and were quite shocked when it aired.
Above: Photograph of author Mordecai Richler
Fans of the book will easily make comparisons and be more critical of the play's storyline. For one thing, Duddy is much more (if not too much so) likeable in the musical version than in the novel and film. Many of his mischievous adventures were taken out. The biggest difference, the story's ending is quite different and a much happier one, perhaps to make it more suitable for a musical and younger audience. Despite this, the play is definitely worth seeing, especially if you're a fan of musicals. The story of Duddy Kravitz is an important staple in Montreal literature and the memory and great works of Mordecai Richler should continue to live on.
Be sure to get your tickets to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz at the Segal Centrebox office. The show will be playing until July 12th. Visit their website or contact them at (514) 739-2301.