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Jane Enkin

Jane Enkin Reviews The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: The Musical

by Jane Enkin, Dec 7, 2016 Jane Enkin Music and Story

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz: The Musical 

music Alan Menken

book and lyrics David Spencer

director Austin Pendleton




Director Austin Pendleton learned from the inspirational director Jerome Robbins, “Don’t tell a story unless the characters are fighting for their lives.”


The tenacious fighters in Mordecai Richler’s 1959 novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz have captivated generations of readers. After many years in development, a new musical version of Duddy Kravitz celebrates the launch of its cast album in Montreal on December 12, 2016.  Ghostlight Records announced the release of the original cast recording of The Apprentice of Duddy Kravitz: The Musical online and in stores on Friday, December 2, 2016, and it has already received critical acclaim.



I saw the show at the Segal Centre in Montreal in 2015 and found it moving, energetic and thought-provoking.  The play opened June 11, and the run had already been extended before opening night to meet audience demand.


The creative team of Pendleton, composer Alan Menken and book and lyrics writer David Spencer first began working with Richler on a musical version of the novel in the 1980s.  (The musical Duddy!, by a different team of artists, played Canadian theatres in 1984.) Richler died in 2001, and the development carried on without him.  It was wonderful to meet his widow Florence Richler and his son Daniel at the opening, especially because they were pleased with the show.  Although naturally there are ways the script diverges from the novel, they both felt confident the musical is true to Richler’s vision.


Duddy’s father Max, played with heimish warmth by George Masswohl, acts as narrator and quickly draws us in by filling in some early details.  A Greek chorus of neighbourhood types gathered for drinks and a nosh at Moe’s Diner responds to Duddy’s changing reputation. At first, Duddy is just a punk kid, with no status in the eyes of his father or his community. More than anything, he wants to be a somebody, a mentsh in the eyes of others by any means possible, including completely un-mentshlik behaviour..


The story opens in the very segregated Montreal of the 1950s -- the French lived in one part of town, the wealthy Anglos lived in another, and middle and lower class Jews like Duddy and his family had their own neighbourhoods and dreamed of escape.  For Duddy’s golden boy elder brother, crisply played by Adrian Marchuk, the way out is through professional education; he has the academic skills to become a doctor, and more importantly, he has the good looks (he doesn’t *look* Jewish) and social skills to assimilate into a higher class.


Duddy himself (perhaps a little “too Jewish”) turns to get-rich-quick schemes as his way to lift himself out of his neighbourhood and gain respect.  Actor Ken James Stewart looks like the proverbial “bar mitzvah bokher” in his first scenes. (It’s easy to picture him in his role as Charlie Brown at Stratford.)  On the one hand desperately eager to please, and on the other carrying a giant chip on his shoulder, Stewart is terrific at showing Duddy as a difficult person for the people around him to tolerate but easy for the audience to love.


Living with the father and his two sons is Duddy’s grandfather Simcha, played with rich and deep, painful tenderness by my dear friend Howard Jerome.   He has wistful ties to the old country and often tells Duddy, “A man without land is nothing.” He shows more overt love and acceptance of Duddy than anyone else. Jerome’s grounded performance brings a beautiful stillness and generosity to the family scenes.


An intriguing presence in the musical is the spirit of Duddy’s mother, exquisitely played by Julia Halfyard. Sensed rather than heard and seen by the family who are always aware of their loss, her absence and her watching presence shape the family gatherings around the kitchen table.  The show’s creators expanded the role as they worked with Halfyard, and developed a character who is firm, assertive, yet delicate, mostly helpless yet determined to reach through to her family and guide their decisions.  This is one of the play’s most memorable performances.


Duddy leaves home to work as a waiter at a mountain resort and he really knows how to work the crowd.  He makes a good impression on his young fellow worker, Yvette, played with fierce tenacity by Marie-Pierre de Brienne. A francophone, de Brienne brought special insights to the role. At the opening night gathering, she spoke with me about the changes for Quebecois women at the time of Richler’s novel.  Women had been meek and homebound, she told me, and they took on a new assertive outlook in those years.  In the musical, Yvette describes herself as a rebel.  De Brienne made it believable, with her subtle performance, that Yvette would stick with Duddy beyond their first romantic, playful attraction as they continue as partners, even as Yvette experiences disappointment and betrayal. She wants to learn from Duddy, to be like him in some ways, and to establish success on her own terms.


Working at the resort, Duddy conceives his grand scheme – he will own land, as his grandfather always dreamed, and develop it into valuable housing property.  Everything that follows – legal and illegal financial dealings, generous behaviours and devastatingly selfish actions – grows out of this passion to buy the land.

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