Composer: Alan Menkin
Lyricist and Book: David Spencer
Reviewer: Kelyn Luther
Alan Menkin and David Spencer originally tried this musical out in 1987 in Philadelphia. Having had 28 years to revise the material, the new refined version was premiered in Quebec in 2015. This CD is the original cast recording of that production and the only commercially available recording.
The source material is Mordecai Richler’s 1959 novel of the same name. while the novel was a satire, this musical is something closer to a Disney film. Seeing as Alan Menkin is best known for composing for Disney films, this is hardly surprising. The bite of satire is replaced with the moral tones of Disney but this actually benefits the musical as it plays to Menkin’s strengths in writing catchy songs.
The plot is a morality tale: 19-year-old Duddy Kravitz wants to break free of his working-class Jewish background and dreams of buying some lakefront property as his grandfather told him this will make him as a man. Along the way, he dabbles in various money-making schemes, including a foray into arty filmmaking, to fulfill the dream but Duddy has to decide for himself what kind of man he wants to be.
Ken James Stewart as the ambitious Duddy gives an endearing performance which works particularly well in songs such as Leaving St. Urbain Street and I’m Gonna Buy This Lake. Though Duddy’s ambition leads him into trouble, the charm of Stewart’s performance makes Duddy relatably flawed rather than an anti-hero who you love to hate. Marie-Pierre de Brienne as his love interest Yvette has the best song on the cast recording, the sweetly pure How Could I Not? and she does justice to Menkin’s score and Spencer’s lyrics.
David Spencer’s lyrics are characterful, incorporating Duddy’s Jewishness without making it caricaturist. The use of Duddy’s father Max (George Masswohl) is an element of Spencer’s book that is irritating. This is nothing to do with Masswohl’s performance; it simply feels like a heavy-handed plot device.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz has a quirky charm and a great pedigree so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have a US or UK production.