Many of us would be hard-pressed not to look back on the carefree, generally innocent days of our childhood and gradual progression towards forging our identities and carving out what will often become our little niche in the world with fondness. 1947 Quebec could arguably be considered the joyful epitome of said innocent times, even more so in the delightfully isolated microcosm of small-town Sainte-Justine. That is the setting, and backdrop, for a young man named Roch Carrier growing up idolizing the beloved Montreal Canadiens hockey dynasty, and in particular a unique player of whom probably a few of us may have heard: Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Carrier wanted nothing more than to be the “Rocket,” trying to skate at his neighborhood rink just like him, play hockey with his friends in the imagined style of the raucous Richard; after all, what child does not need a hero to look up to? With his previous upper body attire wearing out, Roch’s mother reaches out to the venerated Eaton’s Department store with a letter written in French to order a team-emblazoned sweater from their unilingual English catalogue. Imagine young Roch’s dismay when it promptly arrived, but not as ordered: it was instead a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey sweater.
Still an allegory, and virtual metaphor for miscommunication, that rings true for our beloved hockey-doused culture, this classic tale, which began life as a short story written thirty-eight years ago and caused a riveting ripple effect when read by Carrier on CBC Radio (much like his hero “the Rocket” did here in his heyday), has become an institution of Canadian culture. Successfully adapted into an animated short, a children’s book, and even its iconic first line being printed for twelve years on our five dollar currency, Segal Centre Artistic and Executive Director Lisa Rubin and General Manager and Creative Producer Jon Rondeau set out three years ago to make it break out in song, and voilà: The Hockey Sweater: A Musical was born.
The ostracism from the neighborhood kids toward a perceived traitor who would dare to wear the sworn enemy’s proud colors and symbol is a story that many of us can relate to growing up. The subject of bullying is a hot button topic today, and in 1947 Sainte-Justine, Quebec, one surefire way to ensure that you would be on the receiving end of derision and being singled out is to wear the hockey sweater of our beloved ice heroes’ biggest rivals.
Donna Feore directs and choreographs this stunning and powerful youth-filled production with the grace of a world class figure skater, and exquisitely (albeit proverbially) unleashes the dropping of the puck for the mesmerized Segal audience. Singing, dancing, skating, introspection, tension, a talented young cast, the search for meaning and identity: The Hockey Sweater is essentially an instant classic.
Jonathan Monro orchestrates the live musical soundtrack creation with all the zeal and fervor of a Bell Centre bonanza, while Emil Sher contributes to the sonic symphony and also expertly expanded and transitioned the gripping tale from Carrier’s blessed short story to a full-on musical theatre juggernaut. Adding to the musical and dialogue goldmine is the spectacular video backdrop on the stage, a stellar backwall effect, courtesy of Normal Studio. The supremely talented and prodigal young actors onstage not only bring to life the Sainte-Justine youth core of the late 1940s verbally, their musical and dance abilities are second-to-none, not to mention they effortlessly skate around the stage with the lithe demeanor of the strongest skaters the Canadiens have had in their storied century-plus existence.
The Segal Centre has scored the winning goal yet again, as The Hockey Sweater: A Musical will be skating its way into our hearts through November 12th. Visit segalcentre.org for more information or call the box office at (514) 739-7944 .