BWW Feature: A CENTURY SONGBOOK & SHABBES DINNER at Segal Centre
Whereas most of us tend to do "dinner and a show", last Friday night I had the rare treat of having "a show and dinner" at the Segal Centre. Now this was not the Segal's Tuesday Night Live dinner and show combo; this was an early evening presentation of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre's newly remounted A Century Songbook, followed by a Shabbes (Sabbath) Dinner. A first for The Segal, this concept turned a great show into an unforgettable cultural immersive experience for audience members of all ages.
A Century Songbook, back by popular demand, is a musical exploring the last one-hundred years of the Montreal Jewish Community. Whereas the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre typically performs in Yiddish with English and French supertitles, this show follows and English script with songs in Yiddish, English, French, Hebrew, Russian, Ladino, and Amharic, as it explored the historic and cultural Montreal experience for several diverse Jewish populations. Oddly enough for DWYT, some of the most enjoyable moments were not in Yiddish at all, such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Rock Around the Clock, and Hallelujah. Of note, the Scalerico de Oro wedding scene, and the boisterous Abebayehosh that gave audiences a memorable peek into Moroccan and Ethiopian Jewry, respectively. Aptly moving and reminiscent of the current political discourse and rise in prejudice, the 1960s folk song 500 Miles Away From Home and the modern selections We Stand Together and One Day struck an emotional cord and stayed with me (ironically) throughout the Fete Nationale weekend.
Here is a show that offers Montrealers of all faiths and cultural backgrounds a beautiful and entertaining history lesson, while demonstrating some of the shared values of all Montrealers. Pair that with a sumptuous dinner of Kosher Jewish cuisine and Eastern European Sabbath rituals, and it made for a uniquely enriching experience for theatre-goers that only The Segal could pull off. This reporter hopes Executive and Artistic Director, Lisa Rubin considers this for future DWYT Friday evening performances.
One unlikely Century Songbook cast member in attendance for Shabbes Dinner was Omar Jarman, a McGill student from the United Arab Emirates. Omar joined the DWYT after befriending fellow cast member and musical theatre enthusiast, David Peterman at a university-held Interfaith Shabbat. When asking Omar about his Century Songbook rehearsal experience, he talked about being coached by seasoned DWYT member, Burney Lieberman, "We spent time enunciating lyrics and getting over my mispronunciations. I was amused when I made sounds I didn't know my mouth could make! I realized Yiddish offered a remarkable depth of expression, the likes of which I haven't yet seen in English." Omar went on to describe his experience learning the Hebrew songs within the show was easier due to its similarity to Arabic.
"Before joining DWYT, I understood that Yiddish was a language that traveled with the Jewish people throughout Europe, and brought to Montreal by people like my friends' ancestors. Being Muslim at a largely Jewish theatre company turned out pretty well, as everybody at rehearsal was highly interested in my background and how I stumbled upon the troupe. It's quite clear that the similarities between Islam and Judaism greatly outweighed the differences and funny enough, for every question I had about Jewish languages and culture, the cast had similar questions about for me about Arabic and Islam."
A Century Songbook, written by Edit Kuper, directed by Audrey Finkelstein, musically directed by Nick Burgess, choreographed by Holly Greco and Jenny Brizard, and featuring a cast of nearly forty people, aged 8 to 82, continues at the Segal Centre (5170 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine) until June 30th. Tickets (which may be scarce due to recent rave reviews) may be purchased by calling (514) 739-7944 with more info at www.segalcentre.org. Running time is 85 minutes with no intermission.