Bowser (r), Blue (l) with the present owner of Schwartz's Hy Diamond (c)
“It was more a playful joke where Billy was challenging me to write a musical!”
by Richard Burnett reprinted from Hour with permission
I call Rick Blue the Mick Jagger of Montreal comedy duo Bowser and Blue because he’s the money guy. “And George [Bowser] would be Keef!” Blue cracks. “He’s the junkie!”
Since forming in 1978, B&B have come a long way, from Bishop Street to theatre stages across Canada. And this week they premiere their new play, Schwartz’s: The Musical, inspired by Bill Brownstein’s popular book Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story.
“It was more a playful joke where Billy was challenging me to write a musical!” Blue says. “It wasn’t serious at first, but then we discovered that everybody seems to think it’s a good idea. So lo and behold…”
But the pressure of making a musical about a Montreal icon makes Blue nervous.
Directed by Centaur’s artistic and executive director Roy Surette, the cast of 11 actors and musicians stars Bowser and Blue (in tiny roles) alongside Chris Barillaro, Jim Cahill, Vito DeFilippo, Bruce Dinsmore, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, Dominic Lorange, Stephanie Martin, Gordon Masten and Felicia Shulman, who all play a variety of characters ranging from Toronto executives to Schwartz’s owners, staff and loyal customers from over the years.
“George and I do a few cameos,” Blue reveals. “George does Bouchard and Chrétien and I do Mick Jagger!”
Meanwhile, Brownstein – who once took a picture of this reporter dining with Joan Rivers at Schwartz’s – says his favourite Schwartz’s character in his book is the late Maurice Zbriger, a Schwartz’s regular. “The guy fancied himself a classical composer and wrote operas for popes and presidents! And he didn’t like smoked meat!”
Blue says Schwartz’s: The Musical is a departure for B&B (“It’s a classical musical – a love story with songs moving the plot forward”) and he says they’ve learned from their mistakes making 2003’s The Paris of America, also at the Centaur (“It didn’t have the lightness of being that this one has”).
But the pressure of making a musical about a Montreal icon makes Blue nervous. “There are high expectations,” he admits, “so I’m a little nervous.”
Brownstein understands what his old friend is going through.
“This all began [years ago] when I wrote a column about Schwartz’s franchising – I never received so much reader mail in my life! Over 1,000 emails! That’s rare in this business,” Brownstein explains. “They came from around the world. You have to be careful because Schwartz’s is a beloved institution, especially among ex-pats. But I think people will welcome the wackiness of this musical.”
Schwartz’s: The Musical
At the Centaur Theatre until April 24