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Marty Burt, Jacob Sampson, Micha Cromwell. Photo: Jennifer Harrison

Theatre Review: Chasing Champions at the National Arts Centre—until 11.24.18

By Samara Caplan and Laura Gauthier on November 23, 2018

By Samara Caplan and Laura Gauthier. Laura and Samara spend their days as non-profit unicorns and fill every spare minute exploring the world of musical theatre as BFFs (that’s Broadway Friends Forever).


You may have never heard the name Sam Langford before, but it’s a name you should remember. Ship’s Company Theatre’s production of Chasing Champions – The Sam Langford Story is now playing at the National Arts Centre, and it tells the story of the life and career of one of the best boxers of all time, a Canadian, named Sam Langford.

Jacob Sampson, Micha Cromwell, Zach Faye, Marty Burt in Chasing Champions. Photo: Jennifer Harrison.

With a cast of only four, many of the actors seamlessly transfer into three or four characters, if not more, to help develop the story. Written by and starring Jacob Sampson, the story moves through time as Sam tells his life story to a sports journalist. Over the next two hours we learn about why Sam was such a successful boxer, with more than 400 fights over his career, yet so few people know his name. The struggle of being a black boxer in the early 20th century plays a big role, but it really is the story of Sam’s life of chasing after the first-ever black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson, that takes centre stage and gives us an understanding of Langford’s challenges.

The use of lighting, shadows, music and timed sound effects from the other actors on stage not only transport you into the moment but provide a true piece of art hitting almost all of your senses.

With the whole stage set as a boxing ring, lights and sound effects keep it from being one dimensional. Whether it’s the pictures projected on the back wall or the sound of train tracks rolling by, it becomes so much more than a simple boxing ring. One of the best pieces of staging comes during the pivotal fight between Sam and Jack Johnson that is really the catalyst for the years of chasing that come to follow. The use of lighting, shadows, music and timed sound effects from the other actors on stage not only transport you into the moment but provide a true piece of art hitting almost all of your senses.

Be sure to check out more of the NAC’s English Theatre’s season as they continue to support and share stories of fascinating Canadians. If it weren’t for this play and the NAC bringing it here, the people of Ottawa would not have gotten the chance to learn more about the inspiring Nova Scotian that is Sam Langford in such a creative way.


Chasing Champions continues at the National Arts Centre until Saturday, November 24. Shows are Wednesday through Friday at 8pm and a Saturday matinee at 2pm. Tickets are $48. The show runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes with intermission.