BWW Review: THE HOCKEY SWEATER MUSICAL at the Segal Centre
The Segal Centre's brand new Quebec-centric musical, The Hockey Sweater, is by far the company's most electric, exuberant production of the last five seasons.
With book and lyrics by Emil Sher and music and lyrics by Jonathan Monro, the original Segal Centre production was put on in partnership with the city's 375th anniversary celebrations.
The musical, based off the beloved children's book by Roch Carrier, is a very simple story that packs a lot of heart.
I commented to a friend as I left the theatre that the best musicals build on simple stories that ring true.
Anyone whose ever been a kid can relate to this one: the only thing Young Roch cares about more than his favourite team, is fitting in.
The plays follows the true story of a young boy growing up in rural Quebec in the 1940s who nearly flips his lid when his mother mistakenly buys him a dreaded Maple Leafs hockey jersey instead of the prized Habs #9.
The lead character of Young Roch is played by the incredibly talented 12-year-old Jessie Noah Gruman.
Gruman is a firecracker onstage. He's animated and hilarious, with a great range and a lovely singing voice. He holds his own as he shares the stage with much older and more experienced actors who fill in the adult population of the story by way of the coach, the mother and the priest.
These three are an absolute pleasure to watch on their own and perfectly complement the roster of pre-teen actors who make up the hockey team, expertly whizzing around the stage on in-line skates.
Ian Simpson, who plays the priest Father Delisle, is a huge highlight. He shines through in the largest choral number which sees the whole cast crowded around old-fashioned radios listening keenly to broadcasters calling the shots at the Montreal forum.
Roch's mother is played by Claire Lautier who brings a welcome wry humour to the show.
And Scott Beaudin, who plays Gaétan, a member of the coaching staff for the team, deserves a shout out for a beautiful tenor that really comes through on the emotional "Champion's Heart."
What really elevates this show in my mind, however, is the excellent choreography and frankly unbelievable execution on the part of the underage actors.
Anyone who's worked with young actors before knows is can be a trial to teach them to clap their hands at the same time or master footwork without falling on their faces.
But not this group: these kids high kicked and jazz squared with the ease of Broadway babies who've been at it for years.
Donna Feore, who directed and choreographed the show, gives a master class in what it looks like when dance is not an afterthought but a priority.
Another very welcome element was the inclusion of some female narratives that don't exist in the book in the form of young women playing on Roch's team and the expanded roles of his mother and teacher (all of whom were rewarded with their own solos.)
The only stumble comes during moments where the writers were clearly reaching to extend the dozen-page children's book into a full-length musical. Some moments feel off kilter and oddly drawn out, but are quickly forgotten as the plot revs back into high gear and another musical number begins.
In all, The Hockey Sweater made for a really heartwarming and vastly entertaining show whose greatest strength was its ability to bring Roch Carrier's classic story firmly into the present.
It's a coming of age story, it's a family story but most of all, it's a hockey story.
The Hockey Sweater The Musical has already been extended to run until Nov. 19.