Given that it’s one of Modercai Richler’s most famous novels and a successful film starring Richard Dreyfuss, perhaps it’s not surprising that there have already been two attempts to mount a musical production of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
There have even been rumours of Broadway producers wanting to mount their own production. But it seems far more fitting that the latest musical adaption of an eager young Jewish entrepreneur from St-Urbain Street debuts in Montreal.
The expectations have been extremely high for this production. Critics across the country have been questioning whether Duddy is finally ready to sing, and whether this production will ever end up in New York. With the prestige of having music by Academy and Grammy award winner Alan Menken, and being directed by Austin Pendleton, it’s doubtful this latest musical adaptation will fizzle into oblivion.
The music is, without a doubt, the strongest aspect of the show. The story has been changed in certain ways that might bother die-hard fans of the novel. The songs meanwhile are guaranteed to please any musical theater lover. A Man Without Land/Leaving St-Urbain Street, Art and Commerce and The Final Hustle are all musical numbers on par with any great musical.
Sometimes it felt like the actors are just going through the motions. But, as Duddy Kravitz, Ken James Stewart gave an impassioned performance. His Duddy is more fiery and ambitious than the blundering hustler Richler wrote in his novel.
But with the tone of this production, that choice makes sense. Having a character be a miserable lout then burst into joyous song wouldn’t fit. The show definitely prefers a witty tone to a serious one, with most of the zingy one-liners falling on George Masswohl, who plays Duddy’s father Max.
In terms of singing, it’s Stewart’s co-stars that steal the show; Adrian Marchuk as Lenny and Marie-Pierre De Brienne as Yvette have the strongest voices in the cast. De Brienne shows her own star potential with numbers like Welcome Home.
If the production does become successful, it would be great to see more money be put into set design, as the current sets seem rather lackluster. So will this production ever end up in the city that never sleeps? It’s likely the show will continue a successful Segal Centre run if for nothing else than the sentimentality of having such a popular Montreal story brought to the stage. And while Duddy definitely can sing, its future success will depend on whether non-Montreal audiences connects to the show in the same way.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: The Musical plays at The Segal Centre until July 5th
* photos by Maxime Côté