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The Hockey Sweater A Musical

December 10, 2018
hockey sweater hockey kids

Photos by Leslie Schacter

Reviewed December 7, 2018

NAC Babs Asper Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performances through December 23, 7:30 p.m.)

What began as a hastily written tiny tale of kids playing hockey in post-war Quebec has become a huge Canadian story, steeped in history, Quebec culture and small-town hockey.

After Roch Carrier wrote the short story Le chandail de hockey in the ‘70s, it was translated to English, and adapted into an animated short by the National Film Board in 1980 and an illustrated book in 1984 with drawings by Sheldon Cohen. It has since become an emblematic piece of Canadian literature.

The story is based on an experience Carrier had as a child growing up in Sainte-Justine, Quebec in 1946. A fan of the Montreal Canadiens hero Maurice “Rocket” Richard, he and his friends all wear Canadiens’ sweaters with the Rocket’s No. 9 on their backs. When the young Carrier’s sweater becomes threadbare, his mother orders a new one from the catalogue and is mistakenly sent a Toronto Leafs’ sweater.

hockey sweater moss and lautier

Wyatt Moss as young Roch Carrier and Claire Lautier as his mother Anna

While the story more or less ends there, with Carrier hoping the new sweater will be destroyed by moths, lyricists Emil Sher and Jonathan Monro have taken this small iconic story and blown it up into everything quintessentially Canadian and developed a rare Canadian musical.

The two-hour show, directed by choreographer and theatre director Donna Feore, The Hockey Sweater magically captures the pride of an old Quebec town in the wake of the Second World War, thanks to the 1940s outfits of the adults and a plethora of beautifully painted backdrops designed by Torontonian Michael Gianfrancesco, whose work has appeared in theatre, opera and dance productions across Canada.

While Carrier’s famous fable focuses on one moment in his childhood – receiving the Sweater of the Enemy Team in the mail – the new musical amplifies everything about that moment: it takes us to the cold outdoor rink where a team of boys and girls play hockey religiously, it takes us to Carrier’s home with his mother Anna (who orders the wrong sweater because she struggles to understand English order forms), it takes us to the warm inviting church, and it takes us to the strict classroom environment.

hockey sweater kate blackburn

Kate Blackburn as teacher Mlle Therrien

The 80-year-old Roch, performed by Richard Jutras (who also doubles as the classic Mr. Eaton) carries us into the story with an overture at the beginning of Act One and an entr’acte to introduce Act Two. It’s an effective tool to transport us back to an earlier time and an earlier place, while highlighting the relevance of the story in any era.

Most rewardingly, The Hockey Sweater A Musical familiarizes us with the animated and dynamic cast of characters: the 10-year-old protagonist Carrier, brought to life by the staggering talent of young actor, singer, dancer Wyatt Moss; the melodramatic teacher who can’t get her students’ brains in gear once the hockey season starts, performed by the passionate musical theatre artist Kate Blackburn; and the melodic pragmatic mother Anna, realized by the gifted actor and soloist Claire Lautier. Rounded out by a pie-stealing beer-loving priest who has a secret he eventually reveals to the young Carrier, a prancing postman who delivers the Wrong Sweater, and the soldier-turned-coach who advises his young player to “fight with a champion heart” in his new blue-rather-than-red sweater.

Coach Gaétan’s pronouncement that “A champion’s heart can overcome the embarrassment of wearing the wrong sweater” is somewhat of a theme that ties the story together, along with Father Delisle’s assurance that “God loves everyone, even the Maple Leafs.”

“We can’t let sweaters tear us apart” is the timelessly relevant message of the play.


Moss with the Enemy Team colours

The eight children in the cast are real little pros, presenting an energy that connects easily with the audience. With some two dozen songs in its repertoire, The Hockey Sweater plies us with a few gems, like Anna’s quaint and endearing I Hate Hockey confession, or Madamoiselle Therrien’s Hockey on the Brain and a surprisingly winning number by the young Carrier, 100 Million Moths, which he performs in the church scene, leaping defiantly and delightfully through the sacred space, begging God to send him the right sweater. And last but not least, Different, sung by young Jaime MacLean’s Ginette and Moss in a charming poignant moment between the two teammates.

While the children make up nearly half the cast, the adults are definitely not the invisible Charlie Brown type of grownups. They have boundless passion, fun and a remarkable dash of sass.

This singular musical, Canadian through and through, is a full evening of delightful entertainment.

From → musical

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