An all-Canadian cast has been chosen for the world premiere of a new musical adaptation of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz with Ken James Stewart, a Toronto actor who has had five seasons at the Shaw Festival, capturing the title role.
Eight-time Academy Award-winning American composer Alan Menken is creating the original score for the play that is being produced by and will run at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts from June 7 to 28.
Menken is best known for his work on Disney animations and their Broadway versions, including Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, as well as stage musicals like Little Shop of Horrors that have earned him Tony Awards.
One of his 11 Grammy Awards was for Song of the Year, A Whole New World in Aladdin. In 2010 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Among his other current projects, Menken is working on a Broadway version of Aladdin, and the recently announced stage adaptation of Mrs. Doubtfire.
The libretto and lyrics for this adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s 1959 coming-of-age novel are being written by another American entertainment veteran, David Spencer, a multi-award winner himself and past collaborator with Menken.
The director is yet another American, Austin Pendleton, a longtime film, TV and stage actor, whose recent directing has included Uncle Vanya, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.
“A real coup for the Segal Centre,” is how Segal spokesperson Andrea Elalouf describes the involvement of such big-time theatre figures.
Menken commented: “To see the show premiere where the story takes place is a dream come true. This project has been a long time in the making, and it means a great deal to be bringing it to you.”
Menken worked with Spencer on an earlier musical version of Duddy that was presented in 1987 during the American Music Theater Festival at Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center.
Their hopes of taking it off-Broadway were never realized.
Spencer said the Segal production will have a completely new libretto, and the music will also be almost entirely fresh.
Spencer noted that Richler, who died in 2001, had a hand in writing the lyrics for “the experimental earlier version.”
“I feel the spirit of Mordecai is still with us because he was so involved in that process,” he said.
“Duddy may be the realest traditional musical anyone’s ever seen,” he said. “Even though it has a sweeping, eclectic score and follows a larger-than-life main character on a grand quest, its urban universe and sensibility exist in what I’d call musical theatre vérité. There isn’t anything in the musical repertoire quite like it.”
Stewart headlines a cast of 14, which also includes George Masswohl as Max Kravitz, Duddy’s father, and Montreal’s Marie-Pierre de Brienne as Duddy’s girlfriend, Yvette. Howard Jerome, seen in the 2010 film treatment of Richler’s last novel, Barney’s Version, makes his Segal debut as Duddy’s grandfather, Simcha Kravitz.
Duddy was the basis of a successful movie in 1974 starring Richard Dreyfuss, and a less-than-successful play in 1984, which premiered at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton.
The Segal’s Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre has adapted and staged the book in that language.