Culture | The musicality of reality

Forget the cheese, Schwartz’s: The Musical has a wholly meatier purpose

There are at least two possible approaches to reviewing Schwartz’s: The Musical. One would be to discuss the details of the show as a university student foreign to Montreal. The second incorporates the sentimental value Schwartz’s can have for native Montrealers. The musical can resonate in drastically different ways with viewers, depending on who is in the audience. In assessing the entertainment value of Schwartz’s, it is important to take these different receptions into account.
If you’re not a local, what is your first reaction to hearing about a two-hour-long celebration of smoked meat? Probably something along the lines of “Why does this exist?” or “ Will there be dancers in pickle costumes or something?” To you, as it did to me, this will probably seem like a confusing concept and a strange use of theater funds. How does one make a full-length story about a deli?
Although I was unable to see the entire musical during their media call, I could certainly draw enough from the previews to determine elements of the missing scenes.  The dialogue is consistently bad. For example, in one scene a woman orders a sandwich on white bread and the waiter responds, “Anytime someone orders smoked meat on white bread, a Jew dies.” He later explains to a customer that the restaurant “doesn’t have French mustard, but they do have French’s mustard!” The lyrics are not much better, with lines describing the customers of Schwartz’s as “Hebrews or Aryans, but not vegetarians.” In another number, the only audible line in what seems like a stream of mumbling is “smoked meat and some other things.” So as someone who has little attachment to Montreal, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. How could someone survive this for two hours?
But this musical wasn’t created for outsiders, and it can’t just be judged at face value. The flaws of my initial assessment became apparent after stopping at Schwartz’s to interview Traci Silva, a cashier and daughter of the restaurant’s current manager. Silva and all of the Schwartz’s employees had already seen the show in its entirety, as they were invited to view a dress rehearsal. She said that she had found the musical “very funny,” as she understood all the inside jokes. She added that she had “even learned a little more [about the restaurant’s] history.”
About two minutes into the interview, a waiter quickly walked up to Silva and me. His liveliness, paired with his unusually theatrical mannerisms could have landed him a spot in the musical. Without introducing himself, he enthusiastically interjected, “Hey, yeah, I saw it. It was great, very entertaining! Good for the whole family! Do you want a sandwich? Here, I’ll get you a sandwich, YOU NEED A SANDWICH!”  Before I could respond, he ran off to simultaneously serve customers, crack jokes with the waiters and get me my own mini sandwich. There is virtually no difference between Schwartz’s in reality, and its depiction in the musical. Meanwhile, a man waiting in line to pay for lunch told me he would be seeing the show that night, and couldn’t wait to see his buddy play “Vito.”
At this point, the purpose of Schwartz’s: the Musical seemed obvious. It was not just created to attract tourists and publicity – Schwartz’s doesn’t need more advertising. Simply put, it is an almost beautiful, definitely schmaltzy present for those who for generations have called Montreal their home. Grandparents could take their grandchildren to see it and later nag about the glory of Montreal’s old culture. It is show dedicated to a Montreal icon with which locals have formed an unbreakable bond over decades.
The man then asked me what I thought of the show. I told him I loved every minute of it.


Comments posted on The McGill Daily's website must abide by our comments policy.
A change in our comments policy was enacted on January 23, 2017, closing the comments section of non-editorial posts. Find out more about this change here.