Schwartz's the Musical brings deli story to stage

A new Montreal musical has a song to sing about Schwartz's deli, a local landmark that has been serving up smoked meat sandwiches since 1928.

Smoked meat and Montreal history in new musical

Cast of Schwartz's the Musical, from left: Vitto DeFilippo, Stephanie Martin, Dominic Lorange, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, Gordon Masten and Chris Barillaro. (©lucetg.com/Centaur Theatre )

A new Montreal musical has a song to sing about Schwartz's deli, a local landmark that has been serving up smoked meat sandwiches since 1928.

Schwartz's The Musical begins in previews Tuesday and opens Thursday at Montreal's Centaur Theatre.

Comedy duo Bowser & Blue (George Bowser and Rick Blue) have turned a satirical eye to the long lineups outside the Saint-Laurent Boulevard deli and the strange cast of characters that go through it.

Schwartz's The Musical is based on the book Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story  by Montreal journalist Bill Brownstein.

"He had the idea we should do a musical," says Blue.

Gordon Masten and Stephanie Martin in Schwartz's the Musical at Centaur Theatre. (©lucetg.com/Centaur Theatre )
"Of course it was crazy, a really stupid idea. Eventually as time went on and I told the idea to other people I realized it was crazy enough to work and it seems like everybody agrees."

He says they were aware of how seriously Montrealers, and ex-Montrealers, take this slice of Montreal history.

"In fact we were in Toronto and it was an ex-Montrealer who came over to us and said 'You're doing a play about Schwartz's! Do you realize how important this is? You better not screw this up.'

"It's a wonderful kind of authentic place that seems to be timeless and when you go in there you could be in any decade from the 1930s on. It has a life — and the meat is really good," he added.

Bowser and Blue have been satirizing Quebec politics and Montreal life together since 1978 with productions such as Blokes,  4 Anglos of the Apocalypse and The 25th Century Belongs to Canada.

Schwartz's The Musical  is set in the late 1990s, when a businessman from Toronto tries to buy Schwartz's and franchise the business.

Stephanie Martin plays the role of Amber, who's sent from Toronto to Montreal by her boyfriend businessman to check out its potential.

Bowser said the prospect of losing a beloved institution gave the writers a chance to play into the long-time Montreal-Toronto rivalry.

"The  idea is that Toronto is where the business deals are made — over your head and without consultation — so it's an easy place to situate a bad guy because everybody goes 'Oh yeah, it's all about the money,'" Bowser said.

Shane Snow has created choreography for the show, which features waiters who dance and sing about smoked meat.

The cast includes Chris Barillaro, Jim Cahill, Vito DeFilippo, Bruce Dinsmore, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, Dominic Lorange, Gordon Masten and Felicia Shulman.

They're playing a cast of 60 characters, from policemen and businessmen, to pickles and fries.

The musical runs until April 24 at Centaur Theatre.