A lot can (and does) happen in a hundred years. For Montreal’s Jewish community, there is little they haven’t seen (or heard) collectively. From the carefree 1920s until the Stock Market Crash at decade’s end, from the stories of the hallowed halls of Baron Byng High School to the great times in Fletcher’s Field, and from the iconic creation of the State of Israel to the city’s “coming out party -” Expo ’67 – a strong and enduring people’s witnessing of what we now refer to as history from a previous century is powerfully brought to life again with a poignant and proud musical bent in the Segal Centre’s page-to-stage-turning presentation of A Century Songbook. Through song, through dance, through storytelling and emotive narrative, one gets taken along for an unforgettable 20th century ride into celebration, strife, triumphs and troubling times – a tapestry woven into an amalgamation of what amounts to living, breathing witness of a pillared community in this diverse and unique city.
A Century Songbook has been brought back to the Segal Centre stage by popular demand after a brief, but unforgettably spectacular run in 2017 that resulted in a sustaining buzz that never subsided. And with good reason, as director Audrey Finkelstein assembles an irresistible intergenerational cast of more than thirty performers to sing, dance, and tell stories that the Segal Centre’s Artistic and Executive Director Lisa Rubin believes the viewing audience could personally add to – having themselves lived through many of these events and been affected in one way or another by them. Written with love and fine tooth comb pragmatic precision by Edit Kuper, the capturing of a community’s journey proves to be nothing short of simultaneously spellbinding and seriously spiritual.
In addition to the vast cast of 39 and an eclectic 6-piece band, one is treated to a magnificent multitude of costume changes and an introduction to each musical number by one of the actors offering a bit of personal background to what one is about to see. Finkelstein leaves no stone unturned as she has helmed a masterful yet multidimensional take on one hundred years of peaks and valleys for Montreal’s Jewish community. Background collage slides of the moment in time being presented on multi panel screens add a visual backdrop as an accompaniment to the performer’s storytelling and song. Music director and orchestrator Nick Burgess and choreographer Jenny Brizzard assure that lulls are few and far between as one’s ears, eyes and hearts are transported to the moment(s) in time being narrated through song, through stories, through dance and through the eyes of a community that has seen change and challenge – and continue to – but with never a song or story far away from their collective hearts.
This was an undeniably big production to put together, as Finkelstein delightfully – and literally – brought out everyone involved behind the scenes and on the stage, eventually coming to rival the number of people in attendance; but she – like Montreal’s Jewish community – has triumphed in delivering Kuper’s tour de force of show tunes, folk music, anthems and even the cultural dynamite that was rock and roll – along with touching and powerful monologues – to Segal audiences again. Five performances from two years ago has proven just not to be enough to contain a people’s proud Century Songbook.
The Jewish community in Montreal is currently writing future 21st century history, but this show is a unique visual and auditory opportunity to see and hear (and for many, relive) its unforgettable 20th century history – mostly in English as one would expect (but also some magnificent musical numbers offered in French, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Amharic as well) – playing at the Segal Centre’s Sylvan Adams Theatre until June 30th.
Visit segalcentre.org for more information or call the box office at (514) 739-7944 .