The number of Canadian musicals may be small, but they are well-loved, and incredibly Canadian. The National Art Centre’s production of The Hockey Sweater: A Musical, from Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts, is no exception.
The musical, created by Emil Sher and Jonathan Monro and directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, gives the musical theatre treatment to Roch Carrier’s beloved story The Hockey Sweater, about a young boy from rural Ste-Justine, Quebec, who’s dreams of playing just like Maurice “Rocket” Richard are dashed when he receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey from the Eaton catalogue. The boy becomes a pariah in his Canadiens-loving hometown and must learn that it’s not the jersey that’s important, but the person wearing it.
As if that story wasn’t Canadian enough, the musical manages to one-up it. One example: there’s an entire musical number about the glory of the Eaton’s catalogue.
The play tackles Canadian history in plenty of other humorous ways too. Strict schoolteacher Mlle Therrien (Kate Blackburn) attempts to teach her students about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, impressing upon them the importance of Quebecois history—but all that comes out of it is the hugely entertaining number “Hockey on the Brain” which sees Mlle Therrien recast as a tough prison warden.
The Hockey Sweater falls firmly into the pop musical category; think Dear Evan Hanson or a Stephen Sondheim musical. The band is small—two keyboards, violin, reeds, trumpet, guitar, and drums—and leans toward poppy show tunes. The songs are usually ensemble pieces and tend to be lighthearted and fun, with excellent harmonizing and choreography.
The Hockey Sweater falls firmly into the pop musical category; think Dear Evan Hanson or a Stephen Sondheim musical.
Most of the solos are also comedic, such as Father Delisle’s “I Confess,” an at-times tango-esque romp that ends with his greatest confession—that he is a New York Rangers fan. If the music slips anywhere, it is in the few slow, sentimental tunes, but a delightful ensemble performance is always just around the corner.
As great as the adult actors are—and really, not one disappoints—the biggest stars are the children who make up the hockey team. At such young ages, all of them are powerful triple threats with extensive acting credits.
The leading role of ten-year-old Roch Carrier in particular is played expertly by Wyatt Moss, who already has an impressive list of theatre and dance credits. Moss joyously sings and dances his way through the songs just as well as his adult co-actors.
Canada managed to find its footing in the musical theatre world with the smash Come from Away, which made it onto Broadway and was nominated for several Tony Awards. If The Hockey Sweater: A Musical is any indication, Canadian musical theatre may become increasingly relevant.