Tuesday 19 April 2011

Schwartz's The Musical: Toronto option and much more

The Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, better known as Schwartz’s, has received its fair share of publicity over the years. In recent years it has been the subject of a documentary film and a book by journalist Bill Brownstein. When the highly regarded Centaur Theatre announced last year that it would be presenting a stage version of the Brownstein publication called Schwartz’s The Musical many people wondered whether this was an elaborate April Fool’s joke.

Founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, the restaurant has been at the same location ever since, on Bulevard Saint-Laurent. The locale is a single white-tiled room containing several rows of long narrow tables. Next door is a new takeout counter, with limited seating, which has helped reduce the lineups which frequently snake up the street. (photo above left, Felicia Shulman and Vito DeFilippo)

The musical features the outstanding comedy duo of Bowser & Blue, brought to life on stage with a full cast of larger-than-life characters who call Schwartz's "home," and some of the many customers who pass through its doors. Schwartz's: The Musical celebrates the eccentric side of Schwartz’s and the dreaded F-word: franchise!

Since its debut at the end of March, the musical has plated before repeated sellout crowds and had its run extended twice. As of this writing it is scheduled to continue until May 7. Directed by the Centaur’s Artistic and Executive Director Roy Surette, the multi-talented cast of actors and musicians comprising Chris Barillaro, Rick Blue, George Bowser, Jim Cahill, Vito DeFilippo, Bruce Dinsmore, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, Dominic Lorange, Stephanie Martin, Gordon Masten (who can also be seen these days I n the big screen movie Source Code as the conductor), and noted stage veteran Felicia Shulman play as many as 60 characters ranging from Toronto executives, to Schwartz’s owners, staff and loyal customers from over the years! (photo above, one of the funnier scenes from the show)

The fictitious story is set in 1998 when owner Madame Chartrand (Shulman) decides to sell the deli. In comes Martin. She portrays Amber, a gal who is sent from Toronto to Montreal by her boyfriend to check out its potential for franchising. The set is amazing, the script hilarious and the musical numbers quite impressive as well.

Could the musical be headed down Highway 401 to Toronto? Hy Diamond, a Montreal businessman who actually purchased Schwartz’s in 1998, believes this would be a natural. “I have been telling everyone who will listen that this show just has to go to Toronto,” he told me.

Surette confirmed that the question being asked to him most often these days is whether or not the show will indeed be seen in Toronto. “Well the script itself presents a real tongue in cheek rivalry between Montreal and Toronto,” he said. “I do intend to get on the phone with the folks from Mirvish Entertainment and make a pitch. I could definitely see them booking this for a limited run.”

There is a classic line in the musical when discussion turns to whether it would be a good idea to have a Schwartz’s Deli in Toronto, that with all of the ex-Montrealers in Canada’s largest city “it would give them a reason to live!”

Another great line comes when a character says , “You know its spring, when the Leafs are out,” a dig at Toronto’s hockey team.

Surette has only been with the Centaur for a few years, having arrived here from Western Canada. “Like any tourist to Montreal, I would come here and one of my first stops was Schwartz’s,” he says. “When Bowser and Blue approached me two years ago with the idea of creating such a musical I thought it was a great idea. The response, in terms of ticket sales and reviews, though, has exceeded my expectations.”

Diamond notes that for more than 80 years Schwartz’s has been attracting diners from around the world. The musical follows the book by Brownstein, for which a second updated version was recently introduced, and the film called Chez Schwartz. It played in theatres, on CBC, is still available as a DVD and can now be seen on Air Canada flights. “At Schwartz’s, it does not matter whom you are or where you are from,” he remarked. “Everyone is treated the same way. People know this as a proud Montreal Jewish institution.” (photo above, Hy Diamond and granddaughter Jennifer Wieskopf)

Recently, Diamond brought in his 27 year old granddaughter Jennifer Wieskopf to work by his side. A graduate of York University’s Shulich School of Business, with a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration, she has been focusing on marketing and promotions and as a liaison to the producers of the musical. “I have helped them a lot with props,” she said. “Stuff like pickle jars or waiter’s uniforms. We really wanted to make the set look as realistic as possible. We even had the cast here to eat, but kept it kind of secret so they could observe exactly how our staff function . A photo shoot was also organized.”

Interestingly, Wieskopf is kosher and as a result she cannot eat the mouth watering smoked meat. “I enjoy the pickles, the French fries and the black cherry cola,” she laughs.

My first memories of Schwartz’s go way back to when my dad was friends with Maurice Zbriger, a previous owner and noted musician at the time. He would host our entire family for dinner on a regular basis, reserving a special table in the rear of the restaurant.

Whenever my brother in law comes to town from Chicago, he insists upon this being one of his first stops.

There are always celebrity sightings. Manager Frank Silva can barely keep track of them. Former Premier Lucien Bouchard loves the place and his character is depicted in the musical, as are Joan Rivers and Leonard Cohen.

Taking in the show on the night I attended was Quebec Minister of Finance Raymond Bachand and his lovely wife. They were laughing the entire time and stood up with the rest of the audience at the end to contribute to a standing ovation for the cast.

For ticket information go to http://www.centaurtheatre.com/ or call 514-288-3161.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Michael Douglas Montreal Bound: Wants To Thank McGill Teaching Hospitals

Actor Michael Douglas is no stranger to Montreal. He and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones have a home in the Mont Tremblant area and frequent our fair city often. On Tuesday, May 3 at Le Windsor, Douglas will be the special guest at the annual fundraiser of the McGill Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

When a cancerous tumour was found in Douglas’s throat last summer, he was initially treated at one of the McGill teaching hospitals. Here he talks about it with David Letterman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z67gcf311KQ&feature=related.

Douglas says the cancer is now gone. Obviously, his star presence at the Montreal fundraising dinner is a way for him to say “thank you.”

"The odds are, with the tumour gone and what I know about this particular type of cancer, that I've got it beat," the veteran actor said in an interview with U.S. morning show Today recently.

The 66-year-old Douglas pointed out that his parents have set a good precedent for aging — his mother (actress Diana Dill) is in her late 80s, while his father (iconic actor Kirk Douglas) is 94 — he noted that his cancer treatment has nonetheless changed his perceptions. "I feel good about those genes,” he said. “But it's definitely a third act. And so you're a little more conscious of your time in how you choose to spend it. All of a sudden the affection from my family, from my friends, and from my fans hit me at a much deeper level than I would have ever imagined before. And it gave me a really new appreciation of just how valuable, how precious good friends are and family."

An important mission of the McGill Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and its oncology program is to provide state-of-the art care for patients with cancers and other disorders of the head and neck. These cancers are unpredictable and may affect the thyroid, throat, voice box, mouth and tongue, and the nasal chambers. Their research programs have led to many new treatments and surgical procedures to combat these potentially fatal diseases. These research programs have offered patients hope for the future with an attempt to bring an important cure that much closer.

Mr. Douglas recently waged his own battle with throat cancer,” note Drs. Saul Frenkiel and Sheldon Elman, chairs of the event. “Through personal determination and with the help of modern treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, we hold great optimism for his successful recovery. We are extremely grateful that he has offered his support to our research mission here at McGill University.”

The invitation to the event states that by supporting the research fund that honours Michael Douglas, “you will facilitate our endeavours to provide our community of patients with the most modern care available.”

Those with VIP tickets ($750 each) will be able to attend a special cocktail party with Douglas prior to the dinner. There is a spectacular live auction with some spectacular opportunities: two golf foursomes with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, a trip by private jet for deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida (sponsored by Vic Betrand of Mega Brands), a trip via private jet to New York City to see the new Broadway production of Spiderman (sponsored by Stephen Bronfman), a package including racing lessons at the Jim Russell Driving School in Tremblant and accommodations at Hotel Quintessence, (sponsored by CSL native and Michael Kors guru Lawrence Stroll), paintings and necklaces. One of the originators of this event was Dr. Melvin Schloss, a prince of a man who has the magic “ear, nose and throat” touch at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Douglas will not be doing many interviews while in Montreal as his voice tires easily, I am told.

Some biographical information about Douglas, via imdb.com.

Douglas is reported to be worth over $200 million. His first real break came on the TV series The Streets of San Francisco (1972) opposite screen veteran Karl Malden. Michael gained quite a following on this show, and left it to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). In the 1980s he tried his hand at comedies, the most successful being Romancing the Stone (1984), its sequel The Jewel of the Nile (1985), and The War of the Roses (1989), in which he co-starred with Danny DeVito and Kathleen Turner. It was in the 1990s, though, in which he gained the most notorious aspects of his reputation. He starred in Basic Instinct (1992), a thriller, heavy on sex and violence, that was a worldwide hit. Having played a similar role in Fatal Attraction (1987), it did indeed appear that he was being typecast in "man against woman" type roles, and pictures like Disclosure (1994) did nothing to dissuade that opinion. He finally tried to break away from this image with The American President (1995) and The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), yet when he started dating Catherine Zeta-Jones, 25 years his junior, this image continued, even after their marriage. He has done the two Wall Street movies, the In-laws, Solitary Man, Traffic and many more. He is now preparing to portray legendary pianist Liberace in his next movie.

Take a look at his recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: http://videonews.antena3.ro/action/viewvideo/67654/Michael-Douglas-la--Tonight-Show-cu-Jay-Leno.

Michael Douglas Trivia Question

Which movie did Douglas film in Montreal early on in his career? It was called Running and he portrayed fictitious American marathon runner Michael Andropolis who sets his heart on representing his country at the 1976 Olympic Summer Games in Montreal. I remember the scenes of him sprinting into Olympic Stadium.

Michael makes broadcasting "Dean's" list

You may remember former news anchor Michael Dean from 940 AM Radio. Well, he has found a clever way to get back into the media by merging his experience in broadcasting with a specialization in finance and real estate to create his own TV show on YouTube called Dollars n Sense. During the federal election campaign he is airing weekly episodes. “Since I already had all the equipment needed, I figured I may as well put it to work for me,” he said.

The show is entirely researched and produced by Dean from his own home studio/office. “As the show is in its infancy viewership is still pretty low. As with many things on the internet - you're just lost in virtual space until you get the word out in other ways. A show like mine - unlike others on You Tube - stands little chance of going viral, simply because the subject matter is a little dry for most and most are looking for cute little kitten videos or the latest on Lindsay Lohan.”

Here is the link: http://youtu.be/SouZYgmUa-Q

Michael is a licenced mortgage broker for Dominion Lending Centres. He can be reached at 1-877-333-4983, ext. 770. Log on to http://www.michaeldean.ca/ or email mdean@dominionlending.com.