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From crafting arguments in the courtroom to composing songs for the stage, Bryan Schwartz is showing his way with words can convey more than case law.
Schwartz, a counsel in constitutional and public law at Pitblado Law and a professor at the University of Manitoba, will premiere his first musical theatre production on April 23 at the Gas Station Arts Centre.
Consoulation: A Meditation Musical, was penned by the 61-year-old from River Heights over the past 20 years. It stars Tom Anniko, Katy Hedalen, Kevin Klassen, Simon Miron and is directed by Ross McMillan (Less than Kind, How the Heavens Go).
The show, which is described as a chamber musical without any of the "razzmatazz" of a Disney production, is Schwartz’s first public foray into the world of professional arts and theatre. It features over a dozen original songs written by Schwartz and is tied together by the narrative of Isaac Erevean, a Jewish man who is coming to terms with the death of his father.
According to Schwartz, very few people, including his family, friends and colleagues, know about his musical inclinations and he’s kept his work close to his chest over the last two decades.
"You don’t want to raise expectations until you’ve actually finished it," Schwartz said.
"I have many lives, but this one hardly anyone knows about. But if you can have a secret second life there’s a lot more sordid ones to have than theatrical composing."
Schwartz said he’s always been inspired by singer-songwriters such as Randy Newman and Paul Simon, and through his own composition, where he draws influences from French cabaret and Jewish liturgical music among other genres, he’s been able to explore the tension between faith and lived experience.
"There’s a lot of things we’d like to believe about how life works out and the way things ought to be, but a lot of us have a lurking sense that’s not the way it actually works," Schwartz said of the show. "So between faith and realism, what consolation can we find in art."
McMillan, whose experience in theatre and television spans decades, said audiences can expect a wholly professional production in Consoulation — one that carries universal themes and wit.
"There’s two reasons I wanted to direct it. One, is that it’s actually a really good show," McMillan said. "He’s made a show that has a remarkable variety of musical styles, he can write good songs, and there’s some real human profundity that he’s managed to tap into as well.
"The other reason is that it’s kind of an underdog thing — here’s this guy, he’s a constitutional lawyer who writes songs on the side, he’s written this show and he doesn’t really know anybody. I just think he has a lot of character and a lot of pluck and I wanted to help him."
Much of Consoulation’s story is carried by song, so set design, costumes, and props are minimal, McMillan explained, and helping the singers find their way within the songs — some of which are reflections on Schwartz’s life —has been an important challenge throughout rehearsals.
"That’s really where the show lives, is inside these songs, inside these very personal songs," McMillan said.
"He’s really putting himself out there and I admire him for that. And to me, that feeds into the underdog spirit that I like about this show, where he is prepared to let all of us into his personal life.
"What we don’t get is any songs about being a lawyer."
The show runs nightly April 23, 24, 26, and 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Gas Station Arts Centre (445 River Ave.) Tickets are $20 and are available at the theatre or by calling 204-284-9477.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.